Messaging app WeChat is filtering and censoring content related to a Buddhist/Tibetan event in India, reports Factor Daily. The app started blocking and not displaying messages containing the words Tibetan, Dalai Lama and Kalachakra (the event name).
The communication of these words appears to have been blocked between Indian and Chinese users, although it’s not clear if it affects users from other countries as well. According to the report, similar keywords were censored across English, Hindi and Chinese languages.
Interestingly, WeChat claims to be secure and “encrypts your sent and received messages between our servers and your device ensuring that third parties cannot snoop on your messages as they are being delivered over the internet.” However, it appears the company itself, at the behest of the Chinese Government, is actively reading user messages and censoring conversations it doesn’t like, and as such, violating its own claims about privacy.
Note that companies blocking messages from each other, or about each other, is not new. WhatsApp had started blocking any links to Telegram in December 2015, while Facebook had started blocking Tsu, a social network that pays users by sharing revenues users generate by posting on the site. However, blocking content at the bidding of a government sets an even worse precedent that simply blocking competitors, and is not something that can be fixed easily via regulatory action. Given it’s a Chinese application pandering to the whims of its local government, but such a precedent can give other government’s confidence to pull off a similar move, diluting the freedom of speech on the Internet.