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[liberationtech] Why Skype (real-time) is losing out to WeChat (async)

Nathan of Guardian nathan at
Tue Dec 25 23:04:20 PST 2012

On 12/26/2012 12:34 PM, Eric S Johnson wrote:
> Nathan, you've doubtless seen this article. What do your Tibetan friends say
> about this?

It is a great article, and such a short, fascinating study into the
mindset of an activist under clear, demonstrable state surveillance. I
think the point about the greater efficiency these tools (aka moving to
IP based comms vs. GSM/Telco) have given the state security/PSB is the
most important one.

 "We don't care if they're monitoring our WeChat use--we're out
> of their reach?" 

This is the mindset of Tibetans in exile, until they understand that
every message they send, whether to their friend in India or Europe, or
to their friend in Lhasa, is all going through China. Also, once it is
made clear how chatting with someone in Tibetan exile community about
anything political could be enough to incriminate a Tibetan in China on
trumped up charges, they also think twice. Still, the growth in use

... or "what's good enough for Hu Jia is good enough for
> us" ...

Actually, the inverse here - Hu Jia's post and others within the Tibetan
community on this topic (VOA Tibetan had good coverage about mobile
security), has actually increased awareness about the problem. At least
now, everyone knows the risk, and can perhaps act accordingly. In a
recent training to some monks, I said "before you open the app, do a
meditation and visualize yourself walking in the central square in Lhasa
being observed by surveillance cameras and having your every move and
word spoke observed by the PSB." I figured only then would they safely
use WeChat, if that is even possible.

 or "WeChat's convenience advantages outweigh its known security"
> (i.e. security isn't a sine qua non for them) .

This is the reason that is mostly given. "It's free", or "It's easy".
Texting and calling between India and Tibet is much harder and more
expensive that it seems, and that is just one-to-one. The group voice
and picture message features of WeChat are really a game changer when it
comes to (perceived) free flow of information. Almost all videos of
protests (including the recent self-immolations) have come via WeChat.

>From the users perspective, they feel the risk is no different than if
they were using a telephone, so it doesn't feel *worse*. However, they
don't understand the subtle difference and again, the increased
efficiency, that IP-based surveillance gives to the Chinese authorities
vs. GSM/TElco based surveillance. Since WeChat has no encryption at all,
they don't even need to request anything of TenCent/QQ - no backdoors
are required. As long as they know IP addresses and/or usernames, it is
simple to monitor, capture and analyze packets.


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