On the Surveillance Creep that is WeChat
This WeChat account has been permanently blocked due to using an unauthorized WeChat plug-in, non-official app, or simulator. Uninstall the unauthorized software now. If this account contains funds, tap “OK” for relevant instructions.
Readers of my last #deletefacebook post probably know of my interest in avoiding any service where the business interests of the company is not aligned with the best interests of its users. So it’s probably not a surprise that I try to avoid using WeChat whenever possible.
For those who just think of it as “that Chinese messaging app”, do read The Citizen Lab’s WeChat Surveillance Explained for a primer. TL;DR: even though users outside China do not encounter overt censorship, their communication is used to train their censorship algorithms. And communications with Chinese nationals are, of course, monitored.
I do have some contacts that, for some reason or others, are only reachable via WeChat. And if you think Facebook’s Messenger is obnoxious in that it keeps asking permission to upload your contacts whenever you first log in, WeChat is even worse: while new Android versions force it to ask for permission to read your phone logs and contacts, or have access to your media files, Messenger (and most social media and messaging apps) would still work if you say no. WeChat would simply sulk until you accede to all its data demand.
So what to do? Enter Island, a sandbox environment that basically let you have an “Android for Work” profile that have its own set of data. I only ran WeChat from there, and so whenever it tried to hoover up my contacts and phone logs, it gets… nada. Media files I want to send, I transfer to the “Island” work profile before then sharing via WeChat. A bit cumbersome but it works – and there’s no easy way to get media files I receive via WeChat back out, but it’s mostly cat pictures and memes so… ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Notice the use of past tense? That’s because, today, after not using the app for a few months, I received the blocking notice above. Island (or an Android for Work profile) certainly doesn’t qualify for any of the above, which made me assume that it just suspected I’m using a simulator because no real phone would have no contacts to datamine?
In a way, I am glad this happened. Out with the creepiest app on my phone, and now I can use that Island jail for other, slightly less creepy, apps I’m in the process of disentangling myself from.
Before today, I meant to make my next post about transitions in general, so expect that to be my next post in a couple of days. Until then, Happy Holidays, wherever you are, and stay safe!
This post is day 8 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.
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