WeChat international accounts under surveillance for China algorithm

WeChat international accounts under surveillance for China algorithm

WeChat international users are currently under surveillance. The spying no longer limits to China-linked accounts.

China and non-China linked WeChat accounts are under surveillance. Data gathered from the espionage will be used for algorithm training.

On Thursday, Citizen Lab, an academic research lab at the University of Toronto unveiled its findings on WeChat surveillance. The team found out that WeChat political censorship now covers even accounts that are not registered to mainland China’s phone numbers.

WeChat non-China accounts test

In an experiment the team conducted, they observed two WeChat conversations. They tried to find out how WeChat would tag the two conversations differently. The first set was a conversation between two non-China registered accounts. The second one a conversation between a non-China account and a China-registered one.

The team sent a message with a politically sensitive image. They did it through the conversation between two non-China registered accounts. Minutes later, the message was tagged as censored for China registered users.

This made clear evidence that the WeChat censorship is not limited to China-based accounts alone but covers international ones.

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The team also tried to send documents containing politically sensitive content. Using the same conversation between two non-China WeChat accounts, they received the same result.

WeChat censorship for algorithm training

Citizen Lab explains that WeChat uses the surveillance result to train the algorithms it uses. The popular messaging app uses the algorithm to monitor and censor China registered accounts.

Jeffrey Knockel, a research assistant for Citizen Lab said there is no way to explain how the benign image was censored. He added that it only happens when there is political surveillance done among international users.

A report released in March said that WeChat is actively monitoring all WeChat accounts registered in China. The news stated that accounts from other parts of the globe are exempted from censorship.

However, the latest Citizen Lab clearly proved the March report to be false. This means that one app, two systems approach covers all WeChat users.

China-based companies acquiring data

WeChat monitors its China account holders’ conversations in response to the China government policy. The said policy requires all China-based companies to acquire data and share them should the authorities request.

WeChat is a China-based messaging app owned by Tencent, the Chinese tech giant. It is the third most popular app in the field next to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

WeChat has more than one billion users across the globe. It has more than 100 million installations on Google Play Store and Apple Store.

Image courtesy of inmediahk/Flickr

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