The Wechat application has become indispensable on a day-to-day basis in China. Created in 2011 by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, Wechat has recently reached one billion user profiles.
That app, which joins the social networking and digital wallet functions, is used in the Asian country to shop, by reading the QR code, calling a taxi, taking the subway, or paying for light and water or taxes.
A pilot project launched last month by the government of Guangzhou, the country’s third largest city, allows citizens living in one of the city’s districts to create a virtual identity card through the application that replaces the physical document.
However, in an Amnesty International (AI) ‘ranking’ on online privacy protection, Wechat app is at the bottom of a list of 11 instant messaging applications with zero points out of a possible 100.
Data from Wechat users, including consumer habits, photographs, videos, location, contacts, or personal conversations, are “vulnerable to arbitrary scrutiny by the Chinese Government,” recalls AI.
In Chinese cities, there are already video cameras installed in all public roads, transportation and establishments, which together with a centralized facial recognition system, which is being developed by the Ministry of Public Security, will allow to register the movements of a good part of the population .
Regulations issued last year ensure that scrutiny also covers cyberspace by punishing users for infractions such as “spreading rumors” or insults on social networks, and by stipulating that companies in the industry check their real identities.
Use of information
Since then, several people have been arrested or sentenced to prison in the country for comments in groups or private conversations at the Wechat, on charges such as “causing unrest” or “illegally using information and the Internet.”
What about religious activity?
In one of the most well-known cases, a man was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for “disturbing the administrative orders for religious activity,” after having taught the Qur’an to friends and family through the Wechat.
In another example reported this week by local media, a man was detained for an “indefinite period,” after having altered parts of a well-known Chinese song with jokes about his city’s traffic police, and shared with friends through that application.
The lack of a sense of humor of Chinese authorities is even harder to get around when there are no alternatives: social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or the Whatsapp messaging service, are blocked in the country.