China Intercepts WeChat Texts From US and Abroad, Researcher Says

China is intercepting texts from WeChat users living outside of the country, mostly from the U.S. Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. NPR reports: The popular Chinese messaging app WeChat is Zhou Fengsuo’s most reliable communication link to China. That’s because he hasn’t been back in over two decades. Zhou, a human rights activist, had been a university student in 1989, when the pro-democracy protests broke out in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. After a year in jail and another in political reeducation, he moved to the United States in 1995. But WeChat often malfunctions. Zhou began noticing in January that his chat groups could not read his messages. “I realized this because I was expecting some feedback [on a post] but there was no feedback,” Zhou tells NPR at from his home in New Jersey.

As Chinese technology companies expand their footprint outside China, they are also sweeping up vast amounts of data from foreign users. Now, analysts say they know where the missing messages are: Every day, millions of WeChat conversations held inside and outside China are flagged, collected and stored in a database connected to public security agencies in China, according to a Dutch Internet researcher. Zhou is not the only one experiencing recent issues. NPR spoke to three other U.S. citizens who have been blocked from sending messages in WeChat groups or had their accounts frozen earlier this year, despite registering with U.S. phone numbers. This March, [Victor Gevers, co-founder of the nonprofit GDI Foundation, an open-source data security collection] found a Chinese database storing more than 1 billion WeChat conversations, including more than 3.7 billion messages, and tweeted out his findings. Each message had been tagged with a GPS location, and many included users’ national identification numbers. Most of the messages were sent inside China, but more than 19 million of them had been sent from people outside the country, mostly from the U.S., Taiwan, South Korea and Australia.