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WeChat: Useful App or Hidden Threat?

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WeChat isn’t your typical chat app. It’s a powerhouse platform where users can message, use social media, make payments, and even access services like ride-hailing or food delivery through third-party applications. But such convenience comes with a price – it handles a large variety of data, making it a focus of cybersecurity debates. 

Data Collection Concerns 

The concerns surrounding WeChat boil down to two main points. 

  • Firstly, it collects an enormous amount of data, everything from users’ personal details and their payment history to the way they interact within the app and with linked services.
  • Secondly, WeChat’s strong ties to China, where data privacy laws are less stringent, raises questions about data security. 

If misused, this vast collection of data could potentially allow identity theft, fraudulent transactions, or even influence public opinion by shaping users’ information environment. 

User Decline in Australia 

Lately, Aussies have been quitting WeChat at a rapid rate, with usage falling by 30%. There’s growing worry about foreign interference – the possibility of threat actors misusing WeChat’s extensive data for criminal activities. 

What Data Does WeChat Collect? 

  • Personal details: Your name, age, and contact information. 
  • WeChat Pay: Records of purchases within WeChat and partner businesses. 
  • Interconnected data: Info from apps and devices linked to WeChat. 
  • Content specifics: Contents of messages, social posts, and interactions. 
  • User behaviour: Typing patterns, time spent on different app features. 
  • Location specifics: Data from GPS or Wi-Fi connection points. 
  • Call logs: Details of voice and video calls. 
  • Biometric data: Relevant to devices with fingerprint or facial recognition. 

Risks in WeChat’s Data Collection 

With WeChat collecting a vast array of data, there’s a lot at stake. Personal details and transaction records could be used for financial fraud or identity theft. Location data might be leveraged for tracking activities, while confidential conversations could be exposed via call logs. Even biometric data isn’t safe, as it could be misused to bypass security on personal devices. 

As alarming as these threats may sound, there are ways to protect yourself. Familiarising yourself with the latest cybersecurity trends is an excellent start, and our Cyber Security Guide is a great resource for this purpose. 

Comparison with other apps 

Platforms such as Facebook and Google collect user data to refine their services and deliver targeted advertising. Yet, WeChat’s data collection and its links to a government known for widespread surveillance raise distinctive concerns. 

Consider the case of TikTok. Like WeChat, it’s Chinese-owned, and its data collection methods have raised significant concerns. As we’ve previously detailed, TikTok captures a wide array of user data, such as online search history and location. The similarities with WeChat underline why it’s under such intense scrutiny. 

Why Australian Lawmakers Propose a WeChat Ban 

The proposal by Australian lawmakers to ban WeChat is not a sudden decision but one founded on serious cybersecurity concerns. They’re worried about the cybersecurity risks that come with an app that’s got a huge number of users and collects a ton of data. 

Adding to their concerns is the fact that WeChat is tied to China, a country with privacy laws that are less stringent than ours. So, the potential security risks are not just about big picture issues but also impact the individual user. We’re talking about things like identity theft, financial fraud, and more. 

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji is the CEO of Gridware, a leading cybersecurity consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. An emerging thought leader in cybersecurity, Ahmed is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and regularly contributes to cybersecurity conversations in Australia. As well as his extensive background as a security advisor to large Australian Enterprises, he is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer on offensive cybersecurity topics and blockchain.

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