WeChat Surveillance

WeChat surveillance is not a new topic. This issue was raised by many techie individuals, News and blogs across various countries. Rebecca MacKinnon, a Chinese Internet expert and senior research fellow at the New America Foundation said “Whatever Tencent can see, the Chinese government can see,” According to TechInAsia, WeChat has 762 million monthly active users. Out of which, 680 million users are based in China(including Tibet). In 2015,  WeChat (or Weixin in Chinese), became the largest instant messaging platform in the world, used by 48% of all Internet users. WeChat is a instant messaging service developed by Tencent, China..

WeChat along with the Tencent growth is nothing short of miracle.  In the beginning, Tencent founder and CEO Ma Huateng AKA Pony Ma took up various roles, ranging from janitor to a website designer to keep the company alive. And now he is the ninth richest tech billionaire, with a personal net worth of US$22 billion. Jack Ma, founder of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group stands Eight in that list. Ma Huateng’ relationship with the Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly come under critical observation. During a tech conference in Singapore, Ma said  “Lots of people think they can speak out and that they can be irresponsible. I think that’s wrong […] We are a great supporter of the government in terms of the information security. We try to have a better management and control of the Internet”. Ma is a deputy to the 5th Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress and serves in the 12th National People’s Congress

A research was undertaken by university of Toronto on Wechat. They concluded that WeChat surveillance censorship is extensive and differs from elsewhere. Detail research can be found here. On 24 September 2015, Apple published a list of the top 25 most popular apps infected with the XcodeGhost malware. Version 6.2.5 of WeChat for iOS topped that list. Phones or laptops infected with XcodeGhost malware can collect information about your device and then encrypt and upload that data to command and control (C2) servers run by attackers who are in China through the HTTP protocol. Later Tencent Updated the App to tackle this problem. What surprising was the Chinese hackers has enough skills to bypass the iOs Appstore review process.

The Communist Party, which are known for controlling the Internet and keep people from discussing taboo topics or, worse, gathering together to take on a cause. News that are against or embarrassing to the Government could always spread across the China or even to different countries. To counter this, according to the official press, Beijing has enlisted some 2 million people across China to monitor the Internet and search for banned words. Chinese Internet companies, Tencent or WeChat Surveillance included, employ hundreds if not thousands of their own censors, whose job is to block illegal, anti-government posts. They would basically target some keywords and filter your conversation.

In 2013 summer, there was a new rule- Internet users who make defamatory comments that are visited by 5,000 users or reposted more than 500 times can face up to three years in prison.  This new rule made everyone difficult to use microblogging sites such as Twitter.  Later Twitter got banned in China along Facebook.  The government helds meeting of China’s top 39 tech companies annually, which all signed a joint statement saying “Internet companies must strengthen their self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline. Companies like Tencent do fall in line; they have no real choice. They will strictly abide by Chinese Rules.

Its understandable if one uses the WeChat to keep in touch with their family in Tibet. But there are many Tibetans in exile who use WeChat as their primary Instant Messaging App even though they have plenty of other options such as Whatsapp, VIber, Line and Facebook messaenger. Even Whatsapp is working in Tibet as well. If we can switch to other Messaging app we not just banning a Chinese Product but we will also stop providing data to WeChat Surveillance or Chinese Governtment. Data which can be crucial cause data scientist says with so much accumulated data over years, one can predict how Tibetans are doing in Exile or even future.

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