WeChat Denies Storing User Chat Histories

Tencent Holdings’ WeChat, China’s most popular messenger app, on Tuesday denied storing users’ chat histories, after a top businessman was quoted in media reports as saying he believed Tencent was monitoring everyone’s account.

“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 social media platform.

“WeChat will not use any content from user chats for big data analysis. 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.”

Li Shufu, chairman of Geely Holdings, owner of the Volvo car brand, was quoted in Chinese media on Monday as saying Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng “must be watching all our WeChats every day”.

Like all Chinese social media platforms, WeChat is required to censor public posts deemed “illegal” by the Communist Party. WeChat’s privacy policy says it may need to retain and disclose users’ information “in response to a request by a government authority, law enforcement agency or similar body”.

WeChat did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

According to a report by Amnesty International, Tencent ranked at the bottom of 11 tech firms running the world’s most popular messenger apps for how they use encryption to protect user privacy.Previous studies from Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, revealed that censorship on WeChat primarily occurs in group chats rather than one-on-one chats—often without the users themselves even noticing that their chats have been scrubbed. And the keywords that trigger censorship get updated as what the government deems sensitive material evolves.

China’s cyber watchdog in September announced a new rule making chat group administrators and companies accountable for breaches of content rules.This is a false—or at least misleading—statement on many levels. First of all, under China’s sweeping cybersecurity law, implemented in June, all internet companies are required to store internet logs and relevant data for at least six months to assist law enforcement. A new regulation released in September also holds internet companies accountable for breaches of content rules, and require them to establish credit rating systems for chat group users, among other things.

In the same month, it handed down maximum penalties to tech firms including Tencent, Baidu and Weibo Corp for failing to properly censor online content, and asked them to increase content auditing measures.

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