On August 6, President Donald Trump released two executive orders barring US transactions with the Chinese tech companies ByteDance, which owns TikTok, and Tencent, the owner of WeChat, related to those services.
It is unclear what exactly the bans will entail, but a ban on WeChat will likely create significant disruptions for communications and business transactions between people in China and the United States and possibly the rest of the world. That has caused concern and upset—with good reason. Yet while the political motivation behind Trump’s ban and its free speech implications are reasons for concern, the threat WeChat poses should also be taken seriously. WeChat isn’t just a tool for many users; it’s a trap.
With monthly active users of over 1.2 billion worldwide, WeChat is a super-app that combines the functions of social media, messaging, financial services, travel, food delivery, ride-hailing, and other apps. It is so convenient that for people in China it is as unimaginable not to have WeChat as not to have a smartphone.
That’s partially a result of good programming and partially of deliberate policy. The Chinese government shuts out foreign tech companies, puts up a Great Firewall to block websites that don’t comply with its censorship regime, and penalizes people who try to circumvent it. At the same time, it nurtures a handful of domestic platforms like WeChat that censor and surveil their users on its behalf and hand over user data to the government when so-called sensitive information is discovered. Authorities also directly embed cybersecurity