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Tencent spying allegations

Reports emerge of a lawsuit launched by a group of Californians against Tencent.
WeChat … and they follow the conversation? Image: Justin Chin, Bloomberg

Hopes that relations between China and the US might become less hostile once Donald Trump had exited the White House were dashed on the evening of President Joe Biden’s inauguration when reports emerged of a lawsuit launched by a group of Californians against Tencent.

The plaintiffs allege that Tencent’s WeChat mobile app has censored and surveilled them and shared their data with Chinese authorities.

The Washington Post reports that the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, claims Tencent’s practices violate the plaintiffs’ free-speech and private rights and enriches Tencent at the expense of California WeChat users.

“The case is another sign of the mounting scrutiny of WeChat, a popular communication tool in China that is also used by millions of Mandarin speakers around the globe,” said the Washington Post.

Read: Cyber-spies, big corporate battle give shareholders the jitters (Nov 2010)

The Trump administration had tried to ban WeChat on the grounds that it posed a national security threat because it collects “vast swaths” of data on users and offers the Chinese Communist Party an avenue for censoring or distorting information.

Although the former administration abandoned that attempt political analysts believe some version of it might be resuscitated by the Biden administration.

‘Real fear’

In their lawsuit the Californian plaintiffs say they “feel real fear that the [Chinese] Party-state or its agents will retaliate against them or their family and that, as a result, they self-censor, despite the fact that they live in California”.

The lawsuit’s list of allegations include that Tencent has turned over Californian WeChat users’ data and communications to Chinese authorities, censored and surveilled WeChat users in the state, and suspended and blocked their accounts after they have posted material critical of China.

They also allege that Tencent profited by using their data and communications to improve the company’s censorship and surveillance algorithms.

According to The Washington Post Chinese authorities require Tencent to heavily censor WeChat inside China.

Posts about Chinese politics and many other topics disappear when they are sent to or from a China-registered account.

“Chinese authorities have used the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom have been detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications,” said The Washington Post.

South Africa’s Naspers, which is the single largest Tencent shareholder with a 31% stake worth over $145 billion (close to R2.2 trillion), told Moneyweb on Thursday that it would not comment on the legal action in the US.


The lawsuit will draw attention to growing concerns about the Chinese government’s ability and willingness to monitor individuals outside of China. Last month the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a complaint against a Chinese citizen and former Zoom employee Jin Xinjiang for allegedly surveilling and disrupting certain Zoom users (insider and outside China) on behalf of Chinese police and state security agents.

Jin’s bosses at Zoom appear to have known about his activities.

In 2019, three years after Jin joined Zoom’s office in Hangzhou, eastern China, Zoom’s online services were blocked much as Facebook, Google and Twitter are blocked.

In its response to the DoJ, Zoom said the shutdown caused significant disruption for its clients wanting to communicate with partners in China.

In response to the shutdown Jin was appointed Zoom’s liaison person with the Chinese government and the company’s services were promptly unblocked. But in return, according to the DoJ, Zoom had to proactively report and give the Chinese authorities early warnings about “hot illegal incidents”.

The UK’s Financial Times reports that Jin told Zoom colleagues that in addition to flagging discussions relating to hot illegal incidents, the Chinese government “also want me to provide them with some detailed lists of our daily monitoring, such as Hong Kong demonstrations … there were some things that were difficult to determine whether they were legal or illegal, and they [the Chinese government] would help to determine them,” said Jin.

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Why do they use WeChat if they feel threatened by it? Why don’t they simply use Whatsapp, SMS, email or a pigeon for that matter, if they feel they are spied upon if they use WeChat? I do not understand these Americans. They buy a thousand cartons of cigarettes, smoke it all, and then they claim against the manufacturer if they have health problems.

It is like a diabetic patient suing sugar farmers or icecream manufactures. Where is the personal accountability in all of this?

Absolutely agree with all your sentiments.

However, surveillance of personal and private communications is abhorrent.

You pays your money and you makes your choice …. and in this case, you don’t actually pay ANY money.

We chat is a completely different app. It caters for Chinese translations and adds a bunch of stuff for creating cartoon type characters etc. it is not just a chat platform like Signal, Telegram and Whatsapp.

Because in the US you can sue and actually win, bit like a nice lottery.
They’d sue Facebook for exactly the same as what WeChat is doing, but others are already doing that so WeChat is a more juicy target.

To enforce what you wrote about Americans:

So this American buys 5 expensive Cuban Cigars and Insures them against fire
He then proceeds to smoke them

After a few months, he claims insurance stating that the cigars went up in smoke

The Insurance company refused to pay and after the court battle they decided to honor the claim

A few weeks later, the man received a letter from the Insurance company’s attorney’s instituting legal action

They sued him for arson and he was arrested:

Now if that doesn’t epitomize the American physci , nothing does

Is this real?

Hi Sensei, I think this applies to the Chinese living in California of which there are many. However, I get your broader point with which I agree.

Foshan, thank you for that information. It makes more sense to me now.

Hello Sensei …”Where is the personal accountability in all of this?”

This line nicely sums up “entitlement”, a socialist byproduct; this malaise sweeping developed western nations will eventually cripple them…

Yeah if it ain’t the Americans….

…..and who could possibly have suspected the good old benevolent Chinese communist government!

Just another bunch of American lawyers doing their thing looking for money and publicity.

What does Tencent South Africa at the Naspers offices have to say about it?

They have been peddling WeChat for years.

Just wonder why does the USA feel so threatened against everything (e.g. Huawei, WeChat & Tencent) originating from China? Perhaps they are concerned that China will replace the USA as the biggest economy in the world.

You are spot on there. The USA can afford to wage outright war against most countries that try to abandon the petrodollar system, but they cannot invade Russia or China. When they cannot use their military superiority to enforce their hegemony, the USA use tactics like economic sanctions, sanctions against senior politicians and businessmen, economic warfare, currency warfare, and they instigate social unrest and riots. We should see the riots in Hong Kong and the actions against Chinese companies in this context. This is typical of a nation whose empire status, with the power to print the reserve currency, is threatened by the next upcoming superpower. We should expect more of this in the future because nothing can prevent China from pushing the USA off the throne.

Not often that I disagree with you but, for all its faults ( one of which has gone), I would rather trust them as a democracy than China or Russia as Communist states. I have a simple measure of countries which is ” Which country would I rather live in” to test there superiority. The USA in this case wins by far.

The concern is about communism, freedom of speach ,civil liberties ,big government,surveilance, freedom of religion.These are real and justifiable concerns.The Chinese Communist Party virus was released on the world last year to achieve economic dominance.If you think that it was a coincidence and that the spying is a figment of someones imagination I suggest you go and read up on the hundreds of millions of people who werre killed by their own communist regimes over time.

There goes the Naspers/Prosus share price again…

These folks need to get Real and stop wasting time and money. The developing World and the environment need the extra funding pronto!

Downloaded the software platform, but failed to learn the social skills and apply them in the broader network? Come visit South Africa for the big lessons on Ubuntu.

Paranoia about communism- as if America is anything near a free market economy- for every sector they have tarrifs and price supports and import controls.

Not to mention the petrodollar hegemony, military industrial complex and Oligopolist morons/ masters willing to build walls across deserts to maintain National Socialist segregation ideals.

Come back to Earth Major Tom’s- Community is like Communism without the S & M (c)!

I my opinion this is a a storm in a teacup! Merely part of the ongoing battle between US and China due to the Trade War….thanks to Donald Chump! If anyone is to blame for this it’s him,and the Chinese Government who own a slice of every tech ( and other) company to come out of China ( in this case, via Hong Kong)
As I said, it’s just my opinion.

It’s highly likely that Google, Facebook, TenCent, Whatsapp etc etc are all very deep covert collection agencies, using a massive net to put meta data into computers you and I cant even imagine. NSA / DARPA / Echelon / GCHQ type stuff. Hope they’re watching me, I’ll bore them to death …

I for one support the USA going after China in any way or form 100%.
Those criticizing accountability of data mining especially by the Chinese need to read up on their Social Credit Score system – this is Big Brother on steroids!

Love or hate the USA here is some food for thought – if China does become the world’s largest economy:
It’ll be the first time since George III (≈ 1830), that in the world we will have as the largest economy:
• A non-English speaking country
• A non-Western country
• A non-liberal democratic country

It would be foolish to think that’s not going to affect the way in which the world works in the future.

“China is a sleeping lion, and when she awakes, the world will shake.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1817)

Good points by Sensei & others.

And now “Scientia” raises a few hard hitting points why we (as English speaking westerners, fear Sino change).

你明白我在说什么吗?(Google Translate may help..)

Look at this Wiki article:

While English is the most spoken language (incl. on the web), it’s not because it’s the FIRST LANGUAGE of 370mil earthlings….it’s because 900mil people speak English as a 2nd or 3rd language. Many of them, Chinese.

The biggest language used by native speakers (1st tongue) is the Chinese.

And when this ‘sleeping giant’ (or is it dragon?) awakins, and a large % of their population out-develops the rest of world (be it IT tech, aerospace, medical science, boitech, etc) there will come a point where the Chinese (as their nation grows in global significance) will bother less to translate products/services into English (which is up to know the world language), and will develop the argument “the rest of the world can fall in line with our language”. 中国人将告诉世界窃听英语 😉

So if you go speak Mandarin, future generations will lose out on the best future apps, inventions, etc…. Or we can “don’t worry & carry on” in our smaller corner of the world, and get ignored/cut off.
The English-speaking world will come more under threat, over time.

I don’t mind…English is my 2nd language…can learn a 3rd one. “Ni hao ma? everyone…

(If English is your 2nd tongue, don’t stress about the ocassional grammar error. Rather give more time & effort to your Mandarin studies. Especially the younger generation.)

English speakirs may hav a reasin to be unkumfortabil here?

‘Xièxiè’ (Fank you)

End of comments.





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