WeChat banned by Australian Defence Agency over Chinese spying fears
Chinese messaging platform WeChat has been banned by Australia’s Defence Agency over concerns that it could be used by China to spy on communications.
The move is likely related to data-security fears within Australia which have been mounting in recent months. A report in October from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation warned that the country was increasingly being targeted by “espionage and foreign interference”.
“Defence does not provide or support the use of unauthorised software, including the WeChat social media application, on Defence mobile devices,” the department said in a statement.
The spokesman also said that other messaging services such as WhatsApp were being assessed for its security capabilities.
While the app has banned for use by employees of the agency, Australian citizens can still download it from the Play Store and the Apple Store.
The directive comes just months after India’s Ministry of Defence asked officers and all security personnel in the Indian armed forces to remove over 42 Chinese apps which had been classified as ‘spyware’.
In addition to WeChat, the list included other popular Chinese apps like Mi Store found on all Xiaomi smartphones and ShareIt which is used for file transfers and one of the most popular apps in India.
WeChat is currently one of the world's largest standalone mobile apps seeing over one billion monthly active users.
Its popularity is mostly in mainland China and other Asian countries whereas other apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp dominate in the West.
It is created by Tencent, sometimes described as China’s answer to Google, which reportedly has close ties to the Chinese government.
Amnesty International released a report in October 2016 that ranked 11 companies that run the world’s most popular messaging apps for privacy.
WeChat came last on the list partly because it fails to implement any level of end-to-end encryption unlike most of the other services.
In May last year, China revealed a five-year cultural development and reform plan that included plans to tighten the Communist Party’s control over search engine and online news portal content.