Messenger apps are the most significant tools for communication and it connects people from all over the world through the internet. As the number of users accessing the messenger platform increases, the companies are following different kinds of techniques to maintain their customer existence. One of the key features of the messaging services is the protection of the messages sent through the platform.
WeChat is popular in China
Among many messaging application services, WeChat is one of the most sophisticated messenger apps among the Chinese users. The app is used by eight hundred and eighty-nine million users worldwide and the Chinese users not only use it as a messaging app for chatting purpose, but they use the app for all other general activities like booking cabs, paying bills, financial and banking, for booking trips and much more. Though the messaging service is available in many countries, WeChat receives great response among the Chinese customers making its business significant in the Chinese market-beating the tech giant Alibaba.
In order to pay the bills, the users were asked to furnish their banking details with the messenger app to pay the bills, transfer funds to others through the platform, order products and services and use for several other payment options. The app has incorporated a digital wallet service called WeChat Pay through which the users can perform mobile transactions and link their WeChat Pay account with the other users to receive money. The users can top up their account balance by linking the account to the debit card, while they cannot use the credit card. However, the credit card transaction can be used to make vendor payments.
Messenger app is censored
A research team from the Citizen Lab revealed that the Chinese government has censored the messaging app so that the messages that contain certain specific keywords are not delivered to the recipient; instead, the messages are blocked automatically.
China is known for using different types of sensor tools and now they have come up with the censorship tool that focuses on the keywords that are used on the messenger platform. The censor does not block all the random messages that are sent by the user, but it looks for different types of combination of phrases. According to the research report from the Citizen Lab shows that the censorship implemented on the messaging app targets the incident that took place in July 2015- the 709 crackdown.
The messages that contain words like spiritual freedom, human rights, mass arrest are blocked by the censor tool. But if the sender writes ‘spiritual freedom among humanity’ then the message is not blocked. When the tool censors the message, the app does not intimate any of the users regarding the censor and if any message found inappropriate by the app, then the message is blocked.
This censor system is only implemented on the WeChat app of the users whose mobile numbers are registered in Mainland China. Though, now the censor focuses on the 709 crackdown the keyword filter keeps changing based on the related news.
The research also specified that the toll mainly focuses on the group chats than the one on one conversation. Any group found by the censor to use more number of keyword combinations are blocked because the government of China thinks that the conversations taking place in the group chats lead to more harm causing havoc in the country. Similarly, the app users are allowed share their personal view and memories with the others in the app called WeChat Moment, which is also closely monitored by the censor tool.
The interdisciplinary laboratory
The Citizen Lab is based at the Munk School of the Global Affairs at the Global. It was founded by directed by the Professor Ronald Deibert at the University of Toronto. The lab collaborates with the individuals, research centers, and other organizations in the world and uses different types of methods that incorporate the analysis and technical interrogation with the intensive research field, legal policy, qualitative social science and analysis.
The research results from the Citizen Lab have made many global headlines all over the world and have been reported by some of the famous news dailies like the Globe and Mail, Washington Post and New York Times. And it has won many awards for the work done for the welfare of the world and humanity.
The laboratory receives funding for the research from various different sources as it is independent of the corporate or government interest. The monetary support for the lab is received from the Open Society Institute, the International Development Research Centre, Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Ford Foundation, the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, John D and Catherine T MacArthur, and the Global security studies center at the University Of Toronto, Canada. The research lab received technical and software support through the Oculus Info Inc, Palantir Technology, and Virus total.
The research fellow from the University highlighted some of the potential challenges and hindrance the people of China would face regarding the censorship. According to Lotus Ruan, The pope of China, the international community, and the NGOs operating in the country will severely be affected by the latest program conducted by the Chinese government using the messenger app. He has stated that the information control imposed by the Chinese government over the messenger services and social media platform will block the communication and information gap among the rest of the world and China. The people in China will be detached from all the matters that are taking place in the other parts of the world when the information system is restricted.
The research also signifies that the censorship tool comprises of the image filtering, apart from the keyword filtering relating to the crackdown incident. The images that are shared by the user in the WeChat features, WeChat Moments and other media files shared among the friends are also closely monitored. The main focuses are now on the group chats and WeChat Moments because it attracts a large number of users that leads to mobilization.
The role of social media and messenger platform are the gateways to other social and global activities that take place around the world through the texts, images, and videos. This restriction among the people in the communication platform will create a void in the social and political activities resulting in unanswered questions in the future of the country.
About the Author:
Anand Rajendran is the Co-Founder and CEO of Dectar a well-known Software products development and Mobile App Development Company based in Chennai, India. He has extensive experience in building and leading innovative and collaborative software development teams to deliver major software applications like Scimbo – Whatsapp Clone Script. He loves exploring new things and sharing his knowledge with others.