Another Chinese tech company is under fire from U.S. politicians, but this time it’s California that’s making the complaints. According to reports from The Washington Post a newly filed lawsuit by lawmakers in the Golden State alleges that Tencent is using its popular messaging app WeChat to censor and surveil its users. The allegations focus on users in California, even though the alleged activity would likely extend outside the state as well.
WeChat is arguably one of the most used and best messaging apps on the market, and many Chinese users rely on the app for their communication needs. Yang Jianli, who founded the Citizen Power Initiatives for China (CPIFC) that’s partially responsible for filing the suit, said that users across the United States and China have complained about being locked out of their accounts following any form of criticism of the Chinese government.
As the global erosion of democratic values shows little sign of relenting, this lawsuit is part of our attempt to slow that erosion and to perhaps help turn the tide, by relying on the rule of law. Democracy depends on being able to communicate free of politically motivated censorship, and hopefully, this lawsuit will help Chinese-speaking Californians, who make up so much of the Chinese diaspora, do just that.
The lawsuit aims to hold these actions by Tencent, which violates free speech and privacy rights. It also seeks for the company to pay damages to make up for the financial loss and psychological distress, as users in California have expressed concern that the Chinese government would retaliate against them or against family still residing in China.
Tencent is a large, multinational company that has a stake in companies like Epic Games, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, and many others. This isn’t the first time the company has been under fire, as the Trump administration previously tried to ban WeChat last year over surveillance concerns. The move went nowhere, but Yang Jianli believes that a formal lawsuit is the best course of action against a company whose close ties with the Chinese government allow it to hold a monopoly and spy on its users.
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