WeChat privacy, and how to improve it

Approx Reading Time: 9 minutes

WeChat has been receiving a lot of attention in the press ever since it became a mainstream social messaging app. WeChat is owned by a Chinese company named Tencent and WeChat also has a separate version called Weixin that is meant for the users of mainland China. But since WeChat is governed by Chinese state laws there are a lot of user privacy controversies surrounding this messaging app. If you are a WeChat user or want to try the messaging app out it is worth knowing the privacy practices of this application.

Some common WeChat privacy-related questions that you should know about are as follows:

How does WeChat deal with user privacy?

WeChat handles user privacy data security measures including data transport encryption, localizing data storage on the user’s device, employs a security response center called TSRC, and physical surveillance of data centers to limit access to user data.  

How can you improve your privacy if you use a WeChat?

You can improve your WeChat privacy using the privacy options provided in the settings of your WeChat app and by using a VPN.

How can you get information removed from WeChat?

You can delete your WeChat account to remove your information from WeChat servers.

How can you find out what information WeChat has about you?

You can only access the information WeChat has about you if you signed up for WeChat from within the boundaries of any European Union country.

Does WeChat tell you who they share your information with?

WeChat shares your data with the Chinese government, Tencent group of companies, Service providers, and Legal entities.

Does WeChat remove user information from third parties?

WeChat can only remove your information from partners that abide by its privacy policy.

WeChat privacy, and how to improve it 1
(CC BY 2.0) by Sinchen.Lin

While WeChat faces a lot of criticism regarding its privacy policy and data sharing practices there is still a decent user base for this messaging app. And this article is going to answer all the frequently asked WeChat privacy questions in detail to help you decide whether it meets your privacy standard or not so keep reading.

How does WeChat deal with user privacy?

While WeChat doesn’t provide its users with the level of privacy and data protection that is standard in the tech industry it still employs some data protection protocols to provide its users with some level of privacy. The user data and privacy protection measures taken by WeChat are as follows:

● Transport encryption:

While the end to end encryption of user data from the time it is generated to the time it reaches its destination is an industry-standard these days WeChat doesn’t provide its users with end to end encryption. Instead, WeChat employs transport encryption protocols which offer lower levels of privacy to users. Transport encryption of data means that data is converted into an unreadable form when the user generates it and it gets decrypted when it reaches the servers of WeChat. After that, the data is again encrypted and send to the destination. This process makes sure that user data is not stolen while it is in transit but since data is being decrypted at the server it is not 100% private.

● Localization of data storage on the user’s device:

WeChat stores user’s messages and other media on the user’s device instead of storing it on their servers. This makes sure that only the user has access to their private data and even WeChat can’t store the conversations between you and your friends.  

● Employs a security response center called TSRC:

TSRC is an online security platform that is owned by the WeChat parent company Tencent. This platform looks for any bugs and vulnerabilities that might pose and risk to user privacy and remove any data security threats.

● Physical surveillance of data centers:

WeChat shares its infrastructure with Tencent and other companies that are owned by Tencent. The company utilizes strict security surveillance of the data servers to ensure that no one gains access to the data centers not even the unauthorized employees of Tencent or WeChat.

WeChat privacy, and how to improve it 3
(CC BY-SA 2.0) by liewcf

How can you improve your privacy if you use a WeChat?

WeChat allows you to control and improve your privacy using the privacy settings that are built into the WeChat application. The privacy settings you can tweak include:

● Disable “Moments” sharing:

WeChat has a feature called Moments which is similar to Facebook and Instagram stories. But the issue is everyone can see your Moments even if they are not friends with you on WeChat. This public privacy setting of Moments feature is enabled by default but you can change this setting and prevent a stranger from viewing your WeChat moments by opening the WeChat app on your device and going into settings of the app. Here you can tap on the privacy option and disable the “Make Last 10 Moments Public” option to prevent people other than your friends from viewing your moments.

● Clear your location when using the “Discover” feature:

When you use the Discover feature to discover other nearby WeChat users you also show up on the devices of people that show up in the list when you use the feature. But you can make sure that you don’t show up in the Discover list of other WeChat users by going into settings of the WeChat app and select the “General” option from the settings menu. Here you will have to tap on the “Features” option and then pick “People Nearby”. By tapping on “Clear Location” you can prevent your profile from appearing in WeChat users who were using the “Discover” feature at the same time as you. Make sure to clear your location every time you use the discover people nearby feature.

● Enable friend confirmation option:

Anyone can add you on WeChat by default without your confirming them. This can result in some unwanted people getting added to your WeChat friends list. You can stop this from happening by going to the setting of your WeChat app and selecting “Privacy”. From this menu simply enable the “Friend Confirmation” option to control who can get added to your WeChat account.

● Use a VPN:

To prevent WeChat from collecting data about your location you can activate a VPN while you are using the app. A VPN will change your phone’s location to a virtual location so that WeChat can’t gather information about your real location.

How can you get information removed from WeChat?

Deleting your WeChat account is going to delete all of your data associated with your account. You can do this by going to the setting of your WeChat app and selecting the “Account” option. From here you can tap on “Delete Account” and simply follow the instructions and provide your WeChat password to permanently delete your WeChat account and all the data associated with it. 

WeChat privacy, and how to improve it 5
(CC BY 2.0) by renaissancechambara

How can you find out what information WeChat has about you?

Unless you are have signed up for WeChat from the EU using an EU mobile number you cannot find out what information WeChat has stored about you. But if you happen to live in a country that is part of the EU you can access your WeChat information by downloading a copy of your WeChat data. You can do that by going into the settings section of your WeChat app and picking “Account and Security”. From this screen, you can pick “Export personal data” to request WeChat to give you a copy of your information that is stored in their servers. You will receive a confirmation email from WeChat to make sure it is you who is requesting your data and within 3 days you will receive an email with the link that you can use to download your WeChat data.  

Does WeChat tell you who they share your information with?

Yes, WeChat mentions in their privacy policy that they share your data with the following entities:

● Chinese government:

WeChat operates under Chinese law and to comply with the law of China WeChat is bound to share user data with the Chinese government. You also get notified when signing up for WeChat that your data can be accessed by the Chinese government if needed.

● Tencent group of companies:

Since Tencent owns WeChat it shouldn’t come as a surprise that WeChat shares your information with other companies that are part of the Tencent group. One of the reasons WeChat might share your data with Tencent is because it shares infrastructure including servers with other Tencent companies.

● Service providers:

WeChat also shares your data with service providers such as marketing and advertisement partners, customer support providers, GPS service providers, and many other third-party partners that help WeChat in providing their services to the users. But WeChat assures that the service providers can only use the user data according to the privacy policy and terms of use of WeChat.

● Legal entities:

WeChat can also provide your data if it is legally bound to do so. Or if a user is found to violate the terms of use of WeChat then WeChat can legally share your data with the court and law enforcement.

WeChat privacy, and how to improve it 7
By WeChat – WeChat Pay, Public Domain, Link

Does WeChat remove user information from third parties?

Among the third parties mentioned in the privacy policy of WeChat, the privacy policy of the company only applies to third-party service providers and the WeChat itself and therefore WeChat can only delete your information from their servers and the servers of their service providers. But WeChat can’t delete your data that it has shared with the Chinese government, the legal entities, and even the other Tencent group companies.