Meanwhile in China – WeChat, from Tencent Inc, is probably the most popular free Chinese messaging app. This is one of the most commonly used messaging app not only within the borders of China but also in other countries. WeChat Chinese messaging app, like other messaging app is considered private. This means that all of your photos, messages or any communications should be contained only between you and the other person on the other end of the line. However, probably it was not the case anymore after the news broke over the weekend which caused fears in China.
WeChat Chinese Messaging App Deleted Messages Can Be Retrieved
A certain Chinese government official who’s part of Communist Party’s anti-graft watchdogs claimed that they were able to retrieved WeChat deleted messages. The messages were retrieved from a suspected WeChat Chinese messaging app account. The incident spread like fire last weekend which led into a big privacy concern in the said country.
However, this report was immediately denied by the company who owns WeChat, Tencent Inc. The company said that they never store any messages who uses their messaging app.
“WeChat does not store any chat histories – they are only stored on users’ phones and computers,” according to Tencent’s official.
The news started when an official of anti-graft commission from southeastern Hefei, Anhui province announced via a social media that they have retrieved deleted messages of their suspect. The announcement was made last Saturday wherein the official said – “The Chaohu Municipal Discipline Inspection and Supervision Commission in March retrieved a series of deleted WeChat conversations from a suspect“. The chat messages from this Chinese messaging app was used for the watchdog’s investigation.
Privacy Concept Is Not Common When In China
After this news came out last Saturday, it circulated like fire across the mainland China. But the post was deleted the next day, Sunday.
Whether there is truth behind the story, it can make someone wonder that it could be possibly TRUE! Wouldn’t it be an admission that it is possible and to avoid too much criticism and anguish from the people, the government opted to remove the post? The news actually trended not only within China but across the world as well. Each one had their own comment or opinion, especially when it comes to “privacy”.
Some of the Chinese began to speculate and asking how much information can WeChat from Tencent stores. And a big chunk of their population began to worry. Who wouldn’t, right?
My Personal Experience While I Was In China
Privacy concept is not common in China. I personally experienced this first hand when I was deployed in Shanghai for a project. I even became friends with some of the locals there and shared to me how’s their government really serious about Internet censorship. They shared to me different stories like their government can monitor what you watch on Internet TV. Or what you share through any Internet mediums such as email, blog, messaging app, etc. And even monitor what you search in the Internet – especially when using Baidu (China’s search engine like Google). Our colleagues used to tell us that their government is strict with the information you share – especially if it is against their homeland.
During my one-year stay there, I managed to get around their so-called Great Firewall of China. We’ve been warned prior to our trip that most of the websites and tools we need or will use is more likely blocked in China. True enough! That is why, I had to find a way and I did. I tried using different VPNs such VyprVPN. And I even tried to set-up my own Amazon’s AWS and Shadowsocks just to bypass the Internet censorship. It’s like I had to do what I need to do in order for me to contact my family and still connect to my world! My family won’t install another messaging app aside from either Viber or Facebook Messenger just to talk to me.
Is It Really Possible To Recover Deleted Messages?
Being someone from an I.T. and software industry for 18 years, my quick answer is YES! It is possible not only for a company like WeChat’s Chinese messaging app to retrieve or recover any messages when using their app. However, I am not saying that Tencent is doing this and spying on their end-users. All I am saying is that it is possible.
How? For every software created, a logging mechanism is necessary. This is to debug the software being created if it is behaving or compliant to the acceptance criteria of what the software is intended to do. But it is NOT recommended to turn on this debugging feature on because it can degrade the performance of the software. According to South China Morning post – “WeChat was launched in 2011 and has become the country’s biggest social network with 980 million monthly active users in the quarter ended September 30, according to Shenzhen-based Tencent.“. So, imagine if you enable the debugging level to all 980 million monthly active users – it can be disastrous! Probably, it can be done on selective personality but to the entire country – and other users around the world. I don’t think it is a good idea!
How Did This Privacy Breach News Affected Other Countries?
If I ask you personally, how would you react after reading this news that a deleted messages from this Chinese messaging app can be recovered on demand? I am sure, you will start thinking of deleting it from your app drawer. This is nothing unusual. TechCrunch mentioned:
“Fears over Chinese government access to data held or handled by Chinese companies has led to a global backlash against those companies, including some countries (including the U.S.) banning Chinese-made devices and services from sensitive applications or official use altogether.”
This move is not new and Australia’s Defence Department was one of the countries who prohibited their staffs and serving personnel from downloading this Chinese messaging app. This is after the country’s security assessment.
India Defence Ministry also did the similar action earlier on December 2017. The decision was to actually ban the said messaging app.
Now, if you have WeChat messaging app on your phone – what are you going to do?