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Chinese Social Media App Poses a Threat to Activists and Authorities Alike

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, December 13 2012

Image from WeChat app homepage

The most popular new social media app in China is raising suspicions over its geolocational abilities. WeChat, a phone app that combines the functions of Skype, Twitter, and Facebook with the power to locate nearby users, has ousted traditional texting as a contact method for many young people in China. But as the Guardian reported last week, a technology that tracks its users’ movements can be dangerous:

As WeChat grows…politicians and dissidents are voicing concerns: activists fear that the app's voice-messaging service enables security officials to monitor users' movements in real time. And when the app was launched in Taiwan in October, legislators said they feared that it posed a threat to national security, through the potential exposure of private communications.

Techinasia reports that the government in mainland China has voiced public suspicion as well, with the state-run media running the story of a murder committed when a young woman was located by her WeChat profile. Yet Chinese dissidents have claimed that the police have been able to quote personal WeChat correspondence verbatim in interrogations, and that the app enables the authorities to track their movements with greater efficiency. In a South China Morning Post article from November, Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, commented that while they take “user data protection seriously … like other international peers, we comply with relevant laws in the countries where we have operations.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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