Users of the WeChat instant messaging platform can have their content censored even if they leave China or switch to an overseas phone number.
For those who are not familiar, WeChat is China’s top messaging app. With billions of accounts and hundreds of millions of active users, both in China and abroad, users communicate through text or voice messaging and video conferencing, as well as share photos and much more. Unfortunately, this popular app has been subject to serious censorship by the Chinese government.
It’s widely known that the government monitors content closely, yet what’s most disturbing is that both users in China and abroad have stopped being informed of their surveillance and censorship over the messaging app.
“Evidence indicates the Chinese government routinely snoops on WeChat conversations, while the company itself uses various methods to crack down on posting of text or images considered politically unacceptable,” reads the report.
A new report from the National Post explains that former Chinese residents who have used the app in China but leave the country or switch numbers, as long as the account was originally registered with a China-based number, will experience the same degree of content blocking as China-based users no matter their current location.
Tencent said it complies with local laws and regulations in the countries where it operates. WeChat and Weixin – the version for users with a Chinese telephone number – are separate, sister apps addressing different users and with different features, the company said.
“WeChat’s servers are outside of China and not subject to Chinese law, while Weixin’s servers are in China and subject to Chinese law,” said the statement.
Still, it’s unclear which subjects of the recent censorship may have been using Weixin, or how they ended up subject to the more restrictive content rules without their knowledge.
In recent months, China’s online censorship practices have had remarkable power over Western companies, as prominent figures in the US speak out about the treatment of protestors in Hong Kong. In just the past six months, the Communist Party in China has forced an NBA general manager to apologize for a pro-Hong Kong tweet and pressured Apple into taking down an app used by protestors.