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WeChat accused of sharing users’ personal data with Chinese authorities [Update: WhatsApp now blocked in China]
The news was reported by The New York Times (via Android Central), which suggested that China may have developed "specialized software" specifically to disrupt the messages. Videos, images, and file sharing through WhatsApp had already been blocked in the region earlier this year, though text-based messages could still be sent. WhatsApp's end-to-end message encryption is believed to be the main reason behind the ban, which is said to have already caused significant disruptions in the nation.
China is currently preparing for the Communist Party's congress which begins October 18. This is held once every five years to decide who will lead the party. It is expected to reinforce the power of President Xi Jinping — under whom a number of controversial and at times bizarre internet restrictions have been put in place.
WeChat has confirmed that it’s sharing users’ personal info with the Chinese government. The company has updated its privacy statement declaring that it must do so in order to “comply with applicable laws or regulations”, among other things.
Here’s the full statement:
The data WeChat shares with the authorities includes names, contacts, email addresses, and in some cases even your exact location. Online searches performed while using the app can also be seen by the company.
For those of you who don’t know, WeChat is the most popular messaging app in China with well over 600 million users. It’s an alternative to services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, a lot of which are actually blocked in the country. The Chinese government is doing everything it can to get rid of foreign services in an effort to control online activities and get access to as much sensitive data from local companies as possible.
Of course, WeChat is not exclusive to China, as it is available to anyone who wants to use it. You can download it to your device via the Play Store, which is something we don’t recommend at this point due to privacy concerns. There are plenty of similar apps available including Skype and Google Allo, in addition to those already mentioned in this post.