World

Senator Urges Additional Ban on Tencent-Owned Mobile App Over Security Threats

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is urging the U.S. administration to extend a transaction ban to WeChats sister app, QQ, in a bid to counter “hazards posed by high-risk Chinese telecommunications hardware and software.”

Like WeChat, the instant messaging app QQ is developed by Chinese tech giant Tencent.

President Donald Trump on Aug. 6 issued an executive order to ban transactions with ByteDances TikTok and Tencents WeChat, saying that the apps mass harvesting of user data and political censorship pose significant national security risks that call for “aggressive action.”

Since Trumps order, there has been a “significant increase” in QQ downloads in the United States, according to data collected by market analyst firm Sensor Tower.

In a letter to Trump released on Sept. 14, Rubio noted the “identical ownership and similar functions” of WeChat and QQ. These similarities “highlight the common threats that they pose, including data privacy risks, as well as espionage and censorship at the direction of the Chinese government and Communist Party.”

The Shenzhen-based Tencent, along with tech firms ByteDance and Huawei, have faced increased scrutiny internationally for security and privacy concerns related to their products.

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The headquarters of Tencent, the parent company of Chinese social media company WeChat, are seen in Beijing on Aug. 7, 2020. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

Party Ties

Tencent has a long history of complying with the Chinese Communist Partys surveillance apparatus and has a close relationship with the regime.

Pony Ma, Tencents founder and CEO, has been a delegate to Chinas rubber-stamp legislature, the National Peoples Congress, since 2013.

An internal company list The Epoch Times recently obtained also identified more than 7,700 of its employees to be members of Chinese Communist Party branches that are embedded within its offices across the country. The Tencent Party committee also boasts that it created the first Party journal among Chinese internet firms in 2005.

Another leaked document from state-owned telecom firm China Unicom also revealed how Tencent helped build an app for “Party-building” activities, which usually involves studying Party doctrines to enforce members obedience. In Oct. 2017, on the second day of Chinas party congress convened once every five years, the company created an app designed to give virtual applause to Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research group at the University of Toronto, recently found WeChat to be _