China’s WeChat: the high cost of digital convenience

On the surface it may seem the China’s WeChat is a social network like Facebook or WhatsApp. But with more than a billion users and a plethora of functions, it has become a social ecosystem with unlimited possibilities – a messenger, a payment system, an identification system, etc. For most users in fact, WeChat knows: family, friends, topics of discussion, bank details, addresses, bills, purchase histories and so much more. It can even recognize faces and other biometric data.

 This obviously has enormous potential for making life easier, but it is also an enormous risk for users. While Western companies like Google, Amazon, Uber, Twitter and Instagram all keep data, they are separate companies that store data separately. WeChat has all this data in one place. This is scary in and of itself; however, when coupled with the fact that Amnesty International scored WeChat’s data privacy level a 0 out of 100 (in comparison, Facebook received a score of 73), it means that there is great potential for data to be used against people in unreasonable/unethical ways (be it by WeChat, the government or hackers). Moreover, the government is pushing for the use of WeChat data to create a social credit system that will reward “trustworthy citizens” and punish others. The real question then becomes: what is the real cost of convenience in a highly-digital world?