Citizen Lab has revealed that WeChat, the popular messaging app operated by Tencent, subjects the same pervasive content surveillance to accounts beyond China that was previously thought to be exclusively reserved for China-registered accounts.
The Canadian research group said that like any other internet platform operating in China, WeChat is expected to follow rules and regulations from Chinese authorities around prohibited content. Citizen Lab said, however, that these rules and regulations are now being applied to non-China registered accounts as well.
“WeChat implements censorship for users with accounts registered to mainland China phone numbers. This censorship is done without notification to users and is dynamically updated, often in response to current events,” Citizen Lab wrote.
Citizen Lab said that it had previously not seen international accounts subject to the censorship features, and that users could send and receive messages that users with China-registered accounts could not.
In its report [PDF], Citizen Lab details that documents and images shared among non-China registered accounts are subject to content surveillance and are used to build up the database WeChat uses to censor China-registered accounts.
“By engaging in analysis of WeChat privacy agreements and policy documents, we find that the company provides no clear reference or explanation of the content surveillance features and therefore absent performing their own technical experiments, users cannot determine if, and why, content surveillance was being