Creator of WeChat Blames Keyboard Apps for Stealing User Data

  • WeChat will soon have its own keyboard app.
  • The most used third party keyboard app belongs to Tencent too.
  • Internet users don't believe that WeChat's keyboard will be better privacy-wise.

Allen Zhang, known for leading the developments of WeChat, QQMail and FoxMail, three major products of Tencent, announced on this year’s Night of WeChat that WeChat will soon have its own virtual keyboard app. Why? ‘To keep other keyboard apps from stealing user information and chat history.’

“On a daily basis, there are 1.09 billion users texting on WeChat, 330 million of them use it to have a video call. 670 million photos are uploaded on WeChat Moments and over 100 million short videos every day.” Since its first version in 2011, WeChat has now become a must-have for the Chinese people. It’s an app for everything: messaging, social media, mobile payment, food ordering, train and flight tickets booking… Many companies even use it as their main communication tool.

WeChat gets more functions with every update.

However, Allen explained that his team has received a lot of complaints from the users. They think that WeChat is spying and making use of their chat history. Every time they mention something in a chat, later they’ll see some related ads on other apps. “WeChat doesn’t keep any chat history. For higher user privacy, we’re going to have our own keyboard app soon.”

In China, the top three third party keyboard apps are SoGou, Baidu and iFly. Among them, SoGou alone represents over 55% of the market. Reading through the user agreement of these three apps, you can find clear statements of them making usage of user information. SoGou, for example, claims “we might make a user profile based on your browsing history, credit information and personal data, in order to show you more personalized commercial ads, products and services.”

Baidu and iFly have similar terms, the latter of which even suggests that they might share the collected data with other companies. Allen’s speech exposed their hypocrisy; while bragging about how artificially intelligent their apps are, they steal and sell user data for money. The Decision on Strengthening Information Protection on Networks, in effect since 2012, explicitly set the principles of “legal, justified and necessary” for the collection of user data. Obviously, these apps have all disobeyed the principle of “necessary.”

There are many keyboards apps but the market is dominated by three major ones.

On Zhihu, however, it seems like internet users are not really buying it. Tencent bought SoGou’s parent company Sohu in 2020.

“As the vice president of Tencent, why would Allen go against SoGou? It looks more like an easier way for WeChat to collect user data. Just as what its latest version says: ‘I see, what you see’.”

Others think WeChat is simply trying to win over iOS users, most of whom use the system keyboard app created by Apple.

“Instead of trying to conquer more market, Allen should really focus on streamlining WeChat’s functions. I only use it for chats, while the app can easily take over 20G on my phone.” Some posts have suggested a better solution: “The safest and easiest way to prevent any keyboard app from stealing your information is to turn off its connection to the internet and to deny its requests to access the storage or the contacts.”

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Just another attempt to show a more real China.

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