China’s WeChat Denies Storing Users’ Data After Spying Claim

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The leading Chinese messaging app said it doesn’t store users’ chat history, after a top businessman said WeChat was ‘watching’ users

WeChat, China’s most popular messaging application, has denied “storing” users’ messages, following accusations by one of the country’s top businessmen that the Tencent Holdings-owned firm was spying on its users.

“WeChat does not store any users’ chat history. That is only stored in users’ mobiles, computers and other terminals,” WeChat said in a post on the platform.

The statement comes after Li Shufu, chairman of Geely Holdings, which owns the worldwide Volvo and Lotus car brands, was quoted by local media on Monday as saying Tencent chairman Ma Huateng “must be watching all our WeChats every day”.

Geely Holdings is one of China’s largest car manufacturers, and one of the few major companies without ties to the country’s government. It has owned Volvo since 2010, British taxi maker The London Electric Vehicle Company since 2013 and took a majority stake in British sports car maker Lotus Cars last year.hp

‘Misunderstanding’

In its carefully worded response, WeChat said Li’s remarks were the result of a “misunderstanding”.

“WeChat will not use any content from user chats for big data analysis,” the firm said in its post. “Because of WeChat’s technical model that does not store or analyse user chats, the rumour that ‘we are watching your WeChat everyday’ is pure misunderstanding.”

WeChat, like all social media firms operating in China, is legally required to censor public posts the country’s Communist Party designates as illegal, and its privacy policy says it may need to retain and disclose users’ information in response to government or law enforcement requests.

In a 2016 report, Amnesty International ranked Tencent zero out of 100 on various privacy criteria, noting it was the only company on the list that “has not stated publicly that it will not grant government requests to access encrypted messages by building a ‘backdoor'”.

Cyber laws

Tencent is the only Chinese company on Amnesty’s list, which also includes Japan’s Viber and Line and South Korea’s Kakao, as well as services such US-based companies such as Facebook, Apple, Telegram and Google.

Last September China’s internet regulator announced a new rule making chat group administrators and companies accountable for breaches of content laws.

The regulator also fined firms including Tencent, Baidu and Weibo for censorship lapses and demanded they improve content auditing measures.

Last June China brought into force the restrictive Cyber Security Law (CSL), which mandates certain companies to hold data within the country and to undergo on-site security reviews.

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