Last Updated: October 14, 2021
Tencent’s mega-app WeChat claims it will stop accessing its users’ photos. An online influencer who goes by the name “Hackl0us” revealed this behavior online.
South China Morning Post reports that WeChat periodically accesses users’ photos while running in the background. Hackl0us uses screenshots from a Telegram chat group, revealing that the app does this every few hours for up to one minute per photo.
Apple’s new “Record App Activity” feature on iOS 15, which launched last month, reportedly helped discover the activity.
A WeChat representative explained that the app looks for new images to make it faster for users to send photos.
As Hackl0us points out, however, the process takes up resources like device memory and battery power. The influencer referred to the practice as “disgusting” because, aside from draining resources, the program is invasive.
WeChat’s only said it will stop snooping after the influencer exposed it. Users previously discovered that another Tencent app, QQ, and Alibaba’s Taobao have also been found to regularly access photos. Users point out that if these services can access images, there’s no limit to what they could potentially look at.
Although the internet has never been a safe place, there are legitimate reasons to collect data. For example, for the purposes of background checks. Plus, if people know who gathers their information, they will also know where to look if they want to remove it from the internet.
Besides, there are legal ways of data collection. Many people search sites, for instance, scrape data off of social media.
While the users may not anticipate this, the information scraped is publicly available. Users can foresee it being gathered. There’s tacit consent.
WeChat’s data collection is far more invasive. Luckily, users can opt out. Still, they remain suspicious, seeing as the service only recanted after being caught.
The Chinese government is keeping a close eye on such incidents and intends to tackle the problem. Just this year, in August, China passed strict data privacy legislation to combat such behaviors from corporate entities.