WeChat and its billion mark user base is the other app at the center of Washington DC’s scorn. In this article, we cover WeChat, much more than a messaging app. With no equivalent in the United States, Tencent’s WeChat (Wixin) is a powerhouse of information. What started in 2011 as a basic text messaging app grew to such an extent that through its easy-to-use user interface its owners can monitor every single aspect of their lives. There’s nothing you can’t do with WeChat.
Tencent’s app penetration in Mainland China with WeChat is so intense that its payment platforms allow payment of public utilities, remittances, and loans. It has facial recognition software, tracks spending habits, and it’s the perfect platform for Orwellian mischief, that is if you believe the significant amount of pressure and complaints that the US government has to the app’s operations in their territory.
Elon Musk’s automobile manufacturer, Tesla, Snap and Epic Games —the owner of Fortnite, now in a tough legal battle in Northern California with Apple— have exposure to Tencent’s tentacles, the Guangdong-based company has a vast archipelago of companies, subsidiaries, and shells in the entertainment sector worth billions of dollars. It’s Tencent who owns a juicy NBA deal for broadcasting rights in Mainland China.
WeChat Faces Tough Scrutiny
The United States presents the following case: According to official Chinese law, any company must collaborate with State oversight bureaus, any foreign investor in R&D must turn over user data to Chinese authorities. The American government’s legal argument —labeled as anti-Chinese rhetoric in the eyes of the PRC—is that WeChat has full permission to activate microphones and cameras, track locations, access address books, and photos, as well as copying all of that data to their servers.
The Chinese company collects vast swaths of information, potentially in the hands of political commissars. That’s the view of those working under the Trump administration’s Clean Network program, which aims to rid the country of any software they deem a national security threat.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a left-of-center political think tank claims that the implementation of executive action against WeChat is an abuse of emergency powers under the guise of national security. The advocacy group claims that banning users in the US from using what’s considered spyware violates their rights to communicate with friends, family, and business contacts granted by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Tech giant Apple, whose dealings with Tencent in a Court in Northern California are a pain to watch as they face a tough defense team, might be hit severely by an American WeChat ban. Millions of ordinary Chinese citizens use their iOS devices. An executive order ban would force Apple to shun WeChat from the App Store, rendering millions of iPhones unusable to a public which rival domestic competitors like Huawei, ZTE, and Xiaomi would cater.