WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app developed by Tencent Holdings Limited. The app was initially released on January 21, 2011. Since its inception, WeChat has over 1.2 billion monthly active users.
The app primarily hosts Chinese users and has been described as China’s “app for everything.” This is because the app offers an extensive range of functions that aren’t offered in any other social media application.
While you can conveniently chat with your friends and family, you can also send them money or pay your utility bills via the application. As you grab coffee while on your way to work, you can pay through WeChat. From renting a bicycle to renting a car, WeChat offers nearly all the services you can imagine.
Using WeChat is like having a genie in your pocket. There couldn’t possibly be some horrifying, unexpected catch, could there?
That’s because WeChat knows who your friends are, how much money you have, where you live, where you work, what kind of food you like, what kind of movies you watch, how you like to travel, and precisely where you happen to be right now at this exact moment. Uh, that’s a lot of info; we’re not even sure Google knows all that stuff.
WeChat’s Data Concern
Yes, there’s an enormous amount of information about 1.2 billion users running through WeChat’s servers. In addition to that, to provide you with great services, by using the app, you’ve given WeChat ‘full permission to activate microphone and cameras, track your location, access your address book and photos, and copy all of this data at any time to their servers.’
WeChat provides text messaging, push-to-talk voice messaging, broadcast (one-to-many) messaging, video conferencing, video games, sharing photographs and videos, and location sharing too.
The United States Stance on WeChat
WeChat isn’t the only social media messaging app known for collecting data as rival services also collect user data. However, there are laws protecting user privacy in the US and the UK, such as GDPR. The same can’t be said for a country like China, which has strict governmental internet surveillance.
China’s foreign ministry is calling any U.S. ban on TikTok and WeChat “ridiculous,” saying that “their technology and products are safe” and “innocent” pic.twitter.com/8Cps28jB5h
— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) August 7, 2020
In fact, in China, the National Security Law and the New Cybersecurity Law grant the government access to almost all personal information. China’s internet policies pose real security and ideological challenges to the US. But there are more constitutionally and strategically sound approaches than some of the crude tools the US government may end up using.
What’s at Stake?
Many users might argue, what’s wrong with the Chinese government and the Communist party gaining access to all my private information? The answer to this question is clear: the Chinese government wants to create a social ranking system for every citizen.
The social credit system would revolutionize the way individuals interact with and consume goods and services. It’ll also give developers an edge to build additional data points for collecting more information about users.
The information gained can then be used to rate individuals based on their history. Banks would assign financial creditworthiness to individuals, and law enforcement agencies can highlight individuals based on their conduct.
Let’s say you start getting sick and buy medicines from your local pharmacy via WeChat. The company would now inform your insurance company regarding your medical health, who can then charge you extra monthly premiums since you’re getting sick and unhealthy.
In other words, it’s a true violation of the privacy and security we’re so used to and take for granted.
Unlike other social media messaging apps, WeChat isn’t privacy-friendly at all. Users don’t have freedom of expression when it comes to talking about the government. Talking openly isn’t an option on WeChat as the app censors politically sensitive topics even if you’re using WeChat outside of China.
If you think you’re safe sending private messages, files, and other sensitive information to friends and family, think again.
WeChat Security Vulnerabilities
WeChat doesn’t support end-to-end encryption. In fact, the app received zero points out of 100 in Amnesty International’s ‘Security rankings of instant messaging services.’ This alone should raise concerns as the app is practically blacklisted and not recommended by security experts.
An app that doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default shouldn’t even be considered for exchanging chat messages, let alone sharing valuable data that you know will cross the eyes of the Chinese government.
For this very reason, the US has banned WeChat and discourages people from using the app altogether.
Secure Alternatives to WeChat
There are better alternatives to WeChat, such as:
- WhatsApp – the messaging app provides end-to-end encryption for online privacy and security
- Telegram – the app is regarded to be more secure than WhatsApp and offers end-to-end encryption
- Signal – similar to WhatsApp and Telegram, Signal too provides end-to-end encryption, which keeps your conversations safe
Even if you’re using apps that provide end-to-end encryption, you must secure your internet connection for optimal online privacy and security, as your internet protections only go as far as your communications. Use a VPN to fully encrypt your online activities with state-of-the-art AES 256-bit encryption.
If you’re unable to access WeChat, no need to worry. PureVPN offers a robust WeChat VPN that helps you access the application from any corner of the globe. You can carry on communicating with your friends and family and make the most of all the features WeChat has to offer with PureVPN!