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  • On this episode of China Uncensored,

  • what do you get when you combine

  • Venmo, Uber, Fandango,

  • and the TV screens from 1984?

  • Stay tuned.

  • We'll chat about it.

  • Hey, good to see you again.

  • I'm Chris Chappell.

  • What's the first thing you think of

  • when you see this?

  • If you're like me, it was,

  • What is that boy doing on the moon

  • and what sinister plot does he have

  • against the Earth?!”

  • It turns out it's just the login screen for WeChat.

  • You might not have heard of WeChat

  • if you're like most people

  • watching this show outside of China.

  • And if you're inside of China

  • what are you doing illegally watching

  • subversive content on YouTube?

  • Anyway, WeChat is the biggest mobile app

  • in China right now

  • and one of the biggest in the world.

  • It has close to 900 million active users worldwide.

  • So what the heck is WeChat

  • and why is it so successful?

  • And should you be afraid?

  • Well, I'm in the media,

  • so it's my job to make you afraid.

  • Now it's a bit hard to describe WeChat.

  • That's because there's no app in the West

  • that does all the things WeChat does.

  • WeChat started out in 2011

  • as a basic text messaging app.

  • Today, it does basically

  • everything you can imagine.

  • Yes, you can chat with your friends...

  • But also, you can send them money

  • through WeChat.

  • Or pay your utility bills through WeChat.

  • Grabbing a coffee on your way to work?

  • Pay with for it with WeChat.

  • Rent a bicycle?

  • It's on WeChat!

  • Or be a lazy bum and take a taxi!

  • That's also on WeChat!

  • You can also buy tickets

  • for a high-speed rail or flightsay,

  • from Shanghai to Beijing.

  • When you arrive,

  • buy movie tickets.

  • Then find yourself a nice hotel.

  • All without leaving the WeChat app.

  • Wow, WeChat is so convenient!

  • It's like having a genie in your pocket!

  • There couldn't possibly be some kind of horrible,

  • unforeseen catch, could there?

  • Just because WeChat knows

  • who your friends are,

  • how much money you have,

  • where you live, where you work,

  • what kind of food you like,

  • what kind of movies you watch,

  • how you like to travel,

  • and precisely where you happen to be

  • right now at this exact moment?

  • Yes, there's an insane amount of information

  • about 900 million users

  • running through WeChat's servers.

  • Oh, and guess what?

  • In order to provide you

  • with all these great services,

  • WeChat, “has full permission to activate

  • microphones and cameras,

  • track your location,

  • access your address book and photos,

  • and copy all of this data

  • at any time to their servers.”

  • Now it's true that Google, Apple, and Facebook

  • also collect large amounts of user data

  • and have similar permissions.

  • But in the West,

  • there are laws protecting privacy.

  • In China, there is no such regulation.

  • On the contrary,

  • the national-security law

  • and the new cyber-security law

  • grant the government access

  • to almost all personal information.”

  • So, the horrible catch is that WeChat

  • is the television from 1984—

  • the one that's always watching you.

  • Only it's pocket sized,

  • and you gave it permission

  • when you signed up.

  • So what's wrong with the Chinese government

  • and Communist Party having access

  • to all your information?

  • I think you know the answer to that,

  • but I'll give you some examples anyway.

  • On this show we've talked about

  • how the Chinese Communist Party

  • wants to create a social ranking system

  • for every citizen by 2020.

  • This 'social-credit system'

  • would mobilize technology

  • to collect information on all citizens

  • and use that information to rate their behavior,

  • including financial creditworthiness

  • and personal conduct.”

  • Mega apps like WeChat

  • are how they're going to do it.

  • Didn't clock in for work on time?

  • Maybe you paid your utility bill a little late.

  • Hmmm...

  • you've been having a lot of

  • doctors appointments lately.

  • And you just bought Zoloft

  • at the local pharmacy.

  • WeChat is collecting all this data.

  • And it's required by Chinese law

  • to give it all to the government.

  • Oh, and don't think you can

  • talk freely on WeChat

  • using its chat function.

  • WeChat censors politically sensitive topics

  • even if you're using WeChat outside of China.

  • That's what Citizen Lab discovered

  • earlier this year.

  • They're a research group

  • based at the University of Toronto.

  • Here's a brief list of things

  • that are censored on WeChat.

  • So don't try mentioning things like:

  • Falun Gong”;

  • OrTiananmen June 4”;

  • OrFree Tibet”;

  • Or the oddly specific

  • Tough Question + Chinese Authorities Delay Submitting

  • Supplementary Report + Avoid UN

  • If you text someone a forbidden word

  • or combination of words,

  • those texts simply won't go through.

  • And if that's all that happens,

  • you're lucky.

  • Let's say you're the kind of person

  • who keeps talking about Falun Gong,

  • the meditation practice is banned in China.

  • Maybe you use homophones

  • to get around the automatic censorship,

  • so your texts go through.

  • But still,

  • you've violated WeChat's Terms of Service.

  • I think number 5 applies to you:

  • Undermining national religious policy,

  • and promoting cults and feudal superstition.”

  • Case in point:

  • In Shaanxi province,

  • a Falun Gong practitioner named Cai Jinrong

  • was detained for more than a year.

  • A couple months ago,

  • she was finally put before a judge

  • and told what the chargers were:

  • sending messages relating to Falun Gong

  • on WeChat.”

  • And in China's Sichuan province,

  • a Tibetan man was arrested and jailed

  • for the heinous crime

  • of being part of a WeChat group

  • wishing the Dalai Lama a happy birthday.

  • So if you think you're safe

  • sending private messages to your friends...

  • YOU ARE NOT SAFE.

  • WeChat is like the One Ring

  • from Lord of the Rings.

  • The moment you put it on,

  • they know how to find you.

  • The almost 900 million people using WeChat

  • are having their every conversation,

  • every purchase,

  • every move monitored by a regime

  • that's eager to detain them forsubversion.”

  • But on the other hand, WeChat sure is convenient.

  • But before you blame WeChat

  • as the root of all evil,

  • remember that even powerful genies

  • have masters.

  • In order for WeChat

  • or really any large company

  • to operate in China,

  • it's required by law to share data

  • with Chinese authorities.

  • And it has to have a Communist Party Secretary

  • on staff to monitor its operations.

  • Just last week,

  • WeChat and several other Chinese mega apps

  • all found themselves under investigation.

  • China's Cyberspace Administration

  • accused internet users

  • of 'spreading violence, terror,

  • false rumours, pornography

  • and other hazards to national security,

  • public safety,

  • and social order.'”

  • But don't worry about poor WeChat;

  • they'll come out of this just fine

  • as long as they work even harder

  • to police their own content

  • and make sure it doesn't,

  • you know,

  • disrupt China's social harmony.

  • So essentially, the CCP uses tactics

  • like launching scary investigations

  • to force WeChat and other private Chinese companies

  • to do the CCP's bidding.

  • So how was something as frightening

  • and all-knowing as WeChat

  • able to come into being

  • in the first place?

  • It's all thanks to its relationship

  • with its ultimate master,

  • the Chinese Communist Party.

  • WeChat was developed

  • by the Chinese social media giant

  • Tencent.

  • It's the world's tenth most valuable

  • publicly traded company,

  • so it had a lot money to invest.

  • But according to Fortune,

  • Tencent, “would never have grown to that size

  • were it not for the company's close relationship

  • with China's government.”

  • You see, when the US allowed China

  • to join the World Trade Organization in 2001,

  • it kept the status of a “developing economy.”

  • That meant China had greater access

  • to US markets while at the same time,

  • the Chinese regime got to make a lot of rules

  • that created an unfair advantage for Chinese firms.

  • They beganlimiting access

  • or demanding that foreign companies

  • take on a Chinese partner

  • and transfer their intellectual property to China

  • as the price of access.”

  • In China, plagiarization

  • is an established business model.

  • We're going to talk about that

  • more after the break.

  • But suffice it to say,

  • Tencent and its app WeChat

  • were able to grow so much

  • because foreign competitors were mostly kept

  • out of China,

  • and those that got in were suppressed.

  • So this let local Chinese companies

  • thrive off the foreign technology

  • they may or may not have stolen.

  • For example,

  • Tencent's QQ instant messaging [app]

  • is based on Israel's ICQ.”

  • The Chinese Communist Party has a reason

  • for supporting companies like TenCent.

  • They call it,

  • Made in China 2025.”

  • I'm assuming they're using Made in China

  • as if it were a good thing.