Beware the WeChat Spy

WeChat, Tencent’s smartphone messaging application, could someday eclipse Weibo in popularity. Unlike Weibo, WeChat messages are private; groups are by invitation only. With this built-in sense of privacy, as well as availability in multiple languages, WeChat is now the world’s fifth most used smartphone app.

But WeChat is not as private as it seems. Last December, human rights activist Hu Jia reported that Domestic Security Department officials quoted “verbatim” WeChat voicemails he had sent to friends. WeChat can also block messages containing certain keywords, as it likely did this January during protests at the Southern Weekly newspaper. WeChat claimed messages with the words “Southern Weekly” or its Chinese counterpart (南方周末) were unable to be sent due to a “technical glitch.”

Weibo user Cao Shanshi (@曹山石) has shared a screenshot of a WeChat conversation he had with a journalist earlier this month. The unnamed journalist claims the police questioned him after he posted to a WeChat group about a protest:

曹山石: A certain journalist from a major national financial and economic newspaper has undergone questioning by the police. The police can clearly tell who was the first to bring up a certain topic on WeChat, and have been phoning him/her directly.

某全国财经大报记者被警察调查询问了。警察能够清楚分辨出,哪一位最先在微信群提及某话题,并直接调出其电话。

I just received a call from the police asking about the China Construction Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China protest whose time and place I shared to this [WeChat] group the other day. Had I instigated the protest?

刚才接到警察电话了, 问我那天在这个群里说建行,工行游行的时间地点是否煽动游行?

“Geez,” I said. “This group is for journalists. I was just sharing information with my colleagues to go investigate.”

我说我们这个群是记者,我是在把信息告诉我同事去采访的,晕死

They went ahead and checked my identity to confirm that I was a journalist.

还核查了我的身份确实是记者

The police said that I was the first to post the time and place to this group, which is why they called me.

警察说这个群我是最早说时间地点的,所以给我打电话

Read more about WeChat from CDT.

Via CDT Chinese. Translation by Josh Rudolph.

August 12, 2013 1:45 PM
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