WeChat lat­est target in Trump’s tech war as US pledges ‘ac­tion’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By James Tit­comb in San Fran­cisco

THE White House has made China’s big­gest smart­phone app the lat­est front in its tech­nol­ogy war with Bei­jing, warning of a crack­down on the text mes­sage ser­vice WeChat.

Peter Navarro, Don­ald Trump’s trade ad­viser, said that the US was plan­ning “strong ac­tion” against WeChat, a so­called “super app” owned by the Chi- nese in­ter­net be­he­moth Ten­cent and used by more than a bil­lion peo­ple world­wide. It comes days af­ter the US raised the prospect of ban­ning Tik­Tok, the so­cial me­dia sen­sa­tion owned by China-based ByteDance.

“[Tik­Tok] and WeChat are the big­gest forms of cen­sor­ship on the Chi- nese main­land, so ex­pect strong ac­tion on that,” Mr Navarro told Fox Busi­ness.

“What the American peo­ple have to un­der­stand is all of the data that goes into those mo­bile apps that kids have so much fun with... it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chi­nese mil­i­tary, the Chi­nese com­mu­nist party, and the agen­cies which want to steal our in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.”

WeChat is a por­tal for a large por­tion of dig­i­tal life in China, com­pris­ing mes­sag­ing, games, pay­ments and taxi hail­ing. Con­ver­sa­tions are cen­sored and mon­i­tored by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, and are not en­crypted in the way that many western mes­sag­ing apps are.

Out­side of the coun­try, the ser­vice is much more lim­ited and less pop­u­lar com­pared to What­sApp, iMes­sage and Face­book Mes­sen­ger. It is largely used by the Chi­nese di­as­pora and oth­ers to com­mu­ni­cate to peo­ple within China.

How­ever, the app has been viewed with sus­pi­cion in sev­eral coun­tries.

Mem­bers of the Aus­tralian mil­i­tary have been or­dered to re­move it from their phones. Last month, India banned dozens of Chi­nese apps in­clud­ing WeChat and Tik­Tok.

Mes­sages in the app are not cen­sored out­side of China, but re­searchers have claimed that the com­pany mon­i­tors com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the west to im­prove the way it cen­sors them in­side its home coun­try. The US has grown in­creas­ingly wary of Chi­nese surveil­lance in re­cent years, tak­ing ag­gres­sive ac­tion against Huawei.

While it is un­clear what ac­tion the US might take over WeChat, Mike Pom­peo, its sec­re­tary of state, in­di­cated last week that Tik­Tok could be banned com­pletely.

Heavy-handed ac­tion against WeChat would put Ten­cent, one of China’s big­gest tech com­pa­nies, in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. The com­pany has a string of US in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing stakes in Snapchat, Tesla and Red­dit, and its mu­sic arm is listed in New York. The com­pany did not com­ment.

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