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Photo: Thomas Yau

Taiwan opposition voice security fears over WeChat launch

Opposition politicians suspicious at launch of mainland firm Tencent's messaging application


Mainland-based internet service portal Tencent marked its debut in Taiwan yesterday with the introduction of its WeChat mobile messaging application.

However, opposition legislators greeted the launch with concern, saying they were worried the application might threaten individuals' privacy and the island's security if messages sent by users were spied upon.

Similar to US' Whatsapp and South Korea's Line, WeChat is a mobile phone text and voice messaging communication service developed by Tencent Technology in January last year.

Languages supported include English, traditional and simplified Chinese, Indonesian, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese and Russian.

WeChat is not just a simple instant messaging application, but is a platform that allows users to connect with each other via features including hold-to-talk voice messaging, video chat, photo sharing and shake to find friends. Its hold-to-talk function is similar to a traditional walkie-talkie, but without distance limitations.

Legislators of Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said yesterday that such functions - through the registration of mobile phone numbers and email accounts - could easily expose users' private communications and if the service was used in sensitive places such as military bases, it could pose a security risk.

"Technically, it would not be a problem for hackers to develop software to spy on users," said DPP legislator Hsu Chung-hsin.

Citing a White House investigation into alleged cyber-espionage involving mainland telecoms firms Huawei and ZTE, Hsu criticised the government of mainland-friendly Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou for attempting to ease restrictions on mainland investment in the telecoms sector, given that the mainland "has long been notorious for its espionage activities".

Telecommunications security expert Chien Sheng-tsai said some Taiwanese hi-tech companies had barred their employees from using Line and similar messaging services at work or had simply forbidden them from bringing smart phones to work.

Taiwan-based Tencent officials yesterday stressed that WeChat was a developed to help users to meet more contacts and instantly share their experiences with others.

WeChat now has more than 200 million users on the mainland and in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, the officials said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Taiwan security fears over WeChat