Does WeChat Share Your Personal Data With The Chinese Government? [UPDATE]

by • September 25, 2017 • Other PlatformsComments Off on Does WeChat Share Your Personal Data With The Chinese Government? [UPDATE]1590

Data privacy? What’s that you say? In some places that term doesn’t quite exist as we might interpret it. The fact that WeChat shares all it’s users’ information with the Chinese government is a confirmation of that. 

Since we published this article, we received an email on behalf of Tencent – the company behind WeChat – in order to set the record straight on certain “inaccuracies” within. The article has been amended to reflect the truth, as well as make the company’s official statement heard. Also, the article headline has been altered from “WeChat Shares Your Personal Data With The Chinese Government,” to “Does WeChat Share Your Personal Data With The Chinese Government?”

WeChat – in case you don’t know it – is China’s equivalent to WhatsApp or Messenger. On WeChat though, you can do lots and lots of things. Users can send and receive money, read news, post to social networks, book a cab, buy things, order food, pay bills, check in for flights, and even make an appointment with a doctor, and much more. It’s almost a “companion app” for people’s everyday lives. It has over 660 million users, making it one of the most popular apps in the world, and is certainly the top app in China. And… it shares all some user data with the Chinese government. Or at least, it will give up “certain information… when legally compelled to.”

According to the email on behalf of Tencent, it was actually Weixin that recently “updated its privacy policy to reflect the enhancement of user privacy and data protection laws in China,” and that “WeChat and Weixin consider user privacy and data protection not just a regulatory obligation but also a key part of the user experience.” For all of you who haven’t heard of Weixin – it’s basically the Chinese version of WeChat. But it’s… the same app, despite small differences. I urge you to google it.

Tencent’s statement to WeRSM explains:

Unfortunately this fundamentally pro-privacy update was misinterpreted as an admission that we send all user data to the Chinese government. This is not and has never been the case. Our server to user messages are encrypted. In case of criminal investigations, we will provide certain information to law enforcement agencies when legally compelled to do so, which is in line with international practices.

More generally, we would like to emphasize the following points:
1) Protection of user data is a core value of the Weixin/WeChat team, and the updated privacy policy was part of an effort to improve upon this core value.
2) The updated privacy policy applies to Weixin users who have registered in China.
3) Reflecting different regulatory requirements (e.g., GDPR), a different privacy policy applies to users of WeChat (basically non-China users). This policy is reviewed and certified by TRUSTe on an ongoing basis.

The company behind WeChat, Tencent, has just announced that all its “private” user information will not be that private anymore. In order to update to the latest version of the app, users have to accept a new privacy policy that says WeChat will be sharing lots of its data with the government in order to follow the countries ‘applicable laws or regulations.’

If this is the case, a huge amount of personal information including contacts and search histories will be available to the Chinese regime. This is especially troubling since WeChat users’ content is liable to persecution if it is deemed “objectionable.”

WeChat’s current overseas English Privacy Policy (last altered in 2015) reads:

We may be required to retain, preserve or disclose your Personal Information for a longer period of time:

  • – in order to comply with a court order, subpoena or other legal process;
  • – in response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency or similar body (whether situated in your jurisdiction or elsewhere);
  • – where we believe it is reasonably necessary to comply with applicable laws or regulations; or
  • – in order to enforce the WeChat Terms of Service or this Privacy Policy, protect our rights, property or safety, or the rights, property or safety of our affiliate companies or other users of WeChat.

Confused much? So are we. Put it this way: Different regulatory requirements and a different privacy policy apply to users registered in China than other users. Whatever the case might be, WeChat Tencent was rated by Amnesty International as the only company (in its 2016 survey) “which has not stated publicly that it will not grant government requests to access encrypted messages by building a “backdoor.” app with the lowest regard to protecting private information.

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