Trump ends the debate on whether WeChat is a safe mobile app or not, by issuing an executive order that bans the app along with Tik Tok. Despite allegations that both social media apps are spywares, the use of WeChat in North America has spread widely not only among Asian-Americans.
While many smartphone users in North America find it convenient to use WeChat, Trump’s executive order also prohibits Americans from using it. The China-developed app is quite popular because the software not only provides messaging and social media services. It also enables app-users to make electronic payments in business establishments supported by the WeChat payment processing technology. .
The ban is set to take effect on September 20,2020; taking away an efficient cashless method of paying for goods and services amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
Why Trump Disapproves WeChat?
Apparently Trump’s strong disapproval (and fear?) of WeChat stems from a test report released by The Guardian Project in 2013. The group comprised privacy software developers who discovered that chat data coming from Indian smartphone users had a way of flowing back to Shanghai. That is considering that the Indian government is currently entangled with border conflicts with China’s Communist government. The U.S. on thenother hand, has an unresolved trade war with China.
According to the The Guardian Project report, the WeChat app’s terms of service do not give assurance that chat messages will not be accessed by China-based servers. The Chief Technologist of the Canter for Democracy and Technology, Joseph Lorenzo, said the limitation that bars Chinese servers from accessing WeChat messages is only based on the company’s word, which is not legally binding. Mainly because the assurance does not form part of the legal agreement between Tencent, the company that owns WeChat and the app users.
According to Nathan Freitas, Head of the Guardian Project, inasmuch as the app has the ability to obtain data stored in users’ smartphones (e.g. photos, videos, location data), it can be considered a spyware; especially if the app user is not aware of such technological capabilities.
Still, Freitas remarked that when looking at both sides and in a less paranoid perspective, it is also easy for the U.S. government to spy on Chinese nationals using Facebook, Gmail, and similar other U.S. developed apps, including iPhone’s iMessage.
What Tencent Says in Defense of WeChat
The privacy vulnerability of American users in using WeChat as a social media app is hardly a cause for concern since WeChat is in several ways similar to Facebook. Yet different because it does not engage in selling customer information to advertisers the way Facebook does.
Tencent officials assert that the app earned a TRUSTe certification for passing the tests for maintaining users’ privacy, and has made record for being the first messaging app to have earned such recognition.