University of California tells students not to use WeChat, WhatsApp in China #In_ChinaJanuary 11, 2019
“While the use of WhatsApp, WeChat and like messaging apps are legal in China, we have seen in the latest espionage charge of a US citizen in Russia where the use of WhatsApp has been cited in his espionage charges,” read an email seen by CNN.
“Our concern here is the possibility China could use this condition similarly against western travelers to levy charges or as an excuse to deny departure .
Students at UC Berkeley also received the email.
Leonard, who is traveling, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Leonard’s guidance — which has not been posted to UC’s website and appears not to have been received by all students — was sent along with a general alert issued last week by the US State Department to all citizens in China.
Academics and even some students visiting China have complained about being watched and followed by police, or dragged in for questioning about their research and who they are speaking to in the country.
While tweets are public, the Chinese authorities have in the past also pursued people for things they say in private, particularly on Tencent’s messaging app WeChat, which has a track record of conforming with government censorship and surveillance.
In a report on privacy protections in messaging apps, Amnesty International ranked Tencent zero out of 100, and WeChat has been accused of reading users’ messages and storing data.
“The crackdown on Chinese Twitter users and the punishment leveled against WeChat users for their private messages show that authorities have become increasingly intolerant of speeches that are either private or anonymous.”
Experts have long warned against using WeChat for anything sensitive, even as the sheer dominance of the app makes it difficult to avoid entirely in China.