WeChat is suspected of tracking international users

International user photos and documents sent via WeChat can be analyzed to detect prohibited content.

WeChat is a popular Chinese messaging service, attracting more than one billion users globally. Members not only chat with friends but also order food, exchange money, call a car or pay for electricity ... In the domestic version, the information that users share is strictly censored, connected Human integration and automated tools.

Meanwhile, according to WSJ, a study by the Citizen Lab team at the University of Toronto (Canada), published on May 7, shows that WeChat also tracks users' activities outside of China. If sensitive content is detected, the app will be blacklisted.

WeChat now has more than one billion users. Photo: Reuters.

The team said the images and documents sent between international users help "train" and increase the accuracy of the censorship algorithm. Specifically, Citizen Lab set up two chat groups on WeChat, one using accounts registered with phone numbers in China and the other using phone numbers outside China.

The team provides the same hash function (hash - acts as a key to distinguish data blocks) for two completely different images. One photo is of a banned political activist in China and one is judged insensitive and uncensored.

"We share sensitive photos among international users. A minute later, we send the normal photos, but with the same hash, to the Chinese user group and the photos are censored, not displayed." , Said Jeffrey Knockel, a researcher at Citizen Lab. "Unless there is a content tracking system among international users, it is impossible to explain why non-sensitive images are censored."

However, Citizen Lab also said there was no evidence that censorship of international users came from Chinese government orders. Tencent, the developer WeChat, did not comment on the findings.

People in China are said to be familiar with and know how to "live" with the heavily censored Internet system in the country.

At the end of 2019, some researchers also expressed concern that TikTok might become a Chinese weapon in the information warfare, directing American users' views on real-life events. The reason is, while the hashtags related to protest in Hong Kong spread on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram ..., sharing platforms developed by China such as Tik Tok were silent. Experts say that TikTok may be affected to guide public opinion regarding the protests.

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