Is it safe to use Wechat?

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Caduceus
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Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by Caduceus » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:07 pm

I am back from China and I made some good friends over there. It seems they all use Wechat over there, which is a messaging app that I've never heard of. But googling it online and reading some articles on it has left me concerned. It seems that there's zero privacy protections and the potential the app may collect data on lots of other things unrelated to the app itself.

Does anyone use it, and is it safe (privacy wise)?

Jordan4FI
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by Jordan4FI » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:15 pm

Whatsapp is better, but most of Asia also used Wechat.. I used both in Thailand, but now it is just Whatsapp which all my friends maintain due to the security it provides and not saving conversations.. I would try go get them all to use Whatsapp instead, but remember most the world does not care about digital security, they have nothing to lose.

flyingaway
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by flyingaway » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:17 pm

Do not talk about China politics in Wechat. It may cause problems for your friends.
In term of privacy, etc., I would think it is similar to Twitter, Facebook messenger, etc.

TravelGeek
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by TravelGeek » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:18 pm

Caduceus wrote:
Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:07 pm
I am back from China and I made some good friends over there. It seems they all use Wechat over there, which is a messaging app that I've never heard of. But googling it online and reading some articles on it has left me concerned. It seems that there's zero privacy protections and the potential the app may collect data on lots of other things unrelated to the app itself.

Does anyone use it, and is it safe (privacy wise)?
Quick google search reveals that it doesn't use end-to-end encryption, so I assume it isn't safe if you want to ensure that your messages are not accessible to anyone but you and the intended recipient. For many chats this may not matter if you don't discuss work or politics or other sensitive issues. Basically treat it as if you posted the messages to your Twitter timeline.

I don't know whether the app is "rogue" and also gives its makers (and perhaps its regulators) access to other information (e.g., what permissions does it require... perhaps access to your contacts?). Perhaps one way to deal with that is to install it on an otherwise unused (older) phone specifically designated for that app.

Regarding Whatsapp (and other western products with end-to-end encryption), I believe it's blocked in mainland China.

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Pancakes-Eggs-Bacon
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by Pancakes-Eggs-Bacon » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:21 pm

In my opinion as a security geek (still learning), the general rule of thumb is to not trust or use anything that comes out of China. I don't believe that's too tinfoil-hatty either as there are plenty of reputable news sources that can back this up. I wouldn't use Wechat, Weibo, or any of the well-known or not well-known apps. The People's Liberation Army and/or Communist Party monitor quite a bit of that. It really is that Draconian.

If your friends can use Signal; i.e., if that can get through the Great Firewall of China (they likely have to use a VPN but many Chinese already figured this out), then that's my top messaging recommendation, especially if you can also verify Safety numbers out-of-band. Also consider Wire and Threema ($2-3 one-time fee). All of those use end-to-end encryption and I believe are open source software so can be audited.

Lesser recommendations include Whatsapp, which partially implemented the Signal protocol a couple years ago. It's extremely popular but unfortunately doesn't have the same degree of security or privacy (personal information collected) as Signal. I would avoid Telegram at all costs (proprietary encryption ciphers), but I believe that's more popular in Europe and Middle East.

Heck, I'd trust Facebook with my messaging over WeChat or anything out of China. And I hate Facebook and literally never use it.

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whodidntante
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by whodidntante » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:49 pm

I don't know of any country where you be confident communication will not be monitored.

Caduceus
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by Caduceus » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:53 pm

I think there is zero chance of getting them to use Whatsapp. Wechat is used by just about everyone in China to do things beyond messaging. They use it for chatting, for payments (people simply tap their Wechat on a counter to pay!), for cabs, for well, just about everything.

I wouldn't mind if only the conversations on Wechat were not private. I think what I am concerned about is if the app somehow can also access, as another posted mentioned, information on my other apps.

bogglizer
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by bogglizer » Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:55 pm

Snowden already showed that the USA might be the most untrustworthy country on Earth. At least you know that China may be listening when you use WeChat. I use it all the time, but don't put anything on it that I wouldn't share publicly. Your mistake is thinking that other protocols are safer.

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prudent
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by prudent » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:16 pm

I have a relative with a cybersecurity degree who works in China as a teacher. He uses it but to my dismay he does not care about being monitored. It's like the old story about the shoemaker's children - his interest in cybersecurity only extends to employers. On a personal level he just figures the best solution is not to keep sensitive stuff on his phone and PC so he doesn't have to care if something happens. I told him I'd love to keep in touch but I will not use that app.

Caduceus
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by Caduceus » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:20 pm

If I buy a cheap, used, older version of the Iphone (e.g. the Iphone SE) and install Wechat on it, I'm guessing that would be a solution, right?

Although it would be a hassle to monitor two phones.

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Pancakes-Eggs-Bacon
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Re: Is it safe to use Wechat?

Post by Pancakes-Eggs-Bacon » Fri Sep 14, 2018 2:04 pm

Caduceus wrote:
Fri Sep 14, 2018 12:53 pm
I think there is zero chance of getting them to use Whatsapp.
Seems like a defeatist outlook. Besides, Whatsapp isn't the best when it comes to both security and privacy compared to Signal -- just use the original and get the real deal. The folks I know who live in China already have to use VPN in order to use Google services like YouTube, to access Wikipedia, and to get on Facebook. So Chinese are already well-versed in getting around and through the Great Firewall of China.

All they have to do is simply use the messaging app (Signal, Wire, Threema) over their existing VPN connection to securely communicate with everyone. It's not a big deal and takes no extra effort.

I wouldn't tolerate or be submissive to the draconian game China is playing.

Edited to Add: Wow, some basic web searching turns up some incredibly disturbing articles about WeChat and QQ:

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