WeChat reminds users of its privacy policy

Surprise, surprise: it has been confirmed that WeChat gives your personal data to the Chinese government.

The company declared in its 2015 overseas privacy policy:

“We may be required to retain, preserve or disclose your Personal Information for a longer period of time:

  • in order to comply with a court order, subpoena or other legal process;
  • in response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency or similar body (whether situated in your jurisdiction or elsewhere);
  • where we believe it is reasonably necessary to comply with applicable laws or regulations; or
  • in order to enforce the WeChat Terms of Service or this Privacy Policy, protect our rights, property or safety, or the rights, property or safety of our affiliate companies or other users of WeChat.”

WeChat is the most popular messaging service in China, it’s the local equivalent to WhatsApp or Messenger. It proposes an alternative to the mainstream messaging service regularly blocked in the country.

The terms indicate the app exposes personal information such as name, contacts, email address and even location if users have chosen to share it with the service. This follows other recent aggressive actions by the Chinese government to control online activities.

Tech insiders have long suspected Tencent of breaching users’ privacy, the latest update seems to confirm their suspicions.

Can’t say they didn’t warn you.

Update, 25 September: 

The information in the article implicated that the application sharing information with the government as something new. The statement quoted was was not from their latest Chinese privacy policy, but instead from the global version update of WeChat in 2015. In a message from Tencent, they stated the following:

WeChat and Weixin consider user privacy and data protection not just a regulatory obligation but also a key part of the user experience. Weixin has recently updated its privacy policy to reflect the enhancement of user privacy and data protection laws in China.

Unfortunately this fundamentally pro-privacy update was misinterpreted as an admission that we send all user data to the Chinese government. This is not and has never been the case. Our server to user messages are encrypted.  In case of criminal investigations, we will provide certain information to law enforcement agencies when legally compelled to do so, which is in line with international practices.

More generally, we would like to emphasize the following points:
1) Protection of user data is a core value of the Weixin/WeChat team, and the updated privacy policy was part of an effort to improve upon this core value.
2) The updated privacy policy applies to Weixin users who have registered in China.
3) Reflecting different regulatory requirements (e.g., GDPR), a different privacy policy applies to users of WeChat (basically non-China users).  This policy is reviewed and certified by TRUSTe on an ongoing basis.