On Monday, Canada decided to block the use of two apps, WeChat from China and Kaspersky from Russia, on government-issued smartphones and other mobile devices. They did this because they believe these apps could put people’s privacy and security at risk. They have already removed these apps from government devices, and people won’t be able to download them in the future.
Why Did Cananda Ban WeChat?
Canada banned WeChat due to concerns over privacy and security risks associated with the Chinese messaging app. The decision was made by the Treasury Board President, Anita Anand, who oversees Canada’s federal public service. Even though there haven’t been any known security breaches, the government’s chief information officer found that the data collection methods of WeChat on mobile devices provide significant access to the contents of these devices. This posed an unacceptable level of risk to the privacy and security of government networks and data.
The move to remove and block WeChat and the Russian platform Kaspersky was aimed at safeguarding Canada’s government networks and data and aligning with the practices of international partners. While Canada cited privacy and security concerns, China has disputed this, stating that Canada’s decision was made “without any actual evidence.”
This decision to ban WeChat comes after Canada had also banned TikTok on government devices earlier. In the broader context, it reflects growing tensions between Canada and China, which have been strained by various issues, including the detention of a Huawei executive, accusations of election meddling, and the expulsion of a Chinese diplomat. Recently, Canada also raised concerns about a disinformation campaign linked to China that aimed to discredit Canadian lawmakers.
What is Difference Between WeChat and Kaspersky?
WeChat and Kaspersky are two different applications that Canada’s federal government has banned from its phones due to security concerns.
WeChat is a versatile app developed by the Chinese company Tencent. It serves as a social network, messaging platform, and payment application.
Kaspersky, on the other hand, is a cybersecurity and antivirus software company founded by Russian entrepreneur Eugene Kaspersky. Their primary focus is on protecting computer systems from various online threats.
The Canadian government decided to remove both WeChat and Kaspersky applications from its devices. They also plan to block users from downloading these apps in the future. This decision stems from the chief information officer of Canada’s assessment, which determined that both WeChat and Kaspersky pose an “unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.”
Kaspersky expressed disappointment and surprise about the decision, suggesting that it may have been influenced by political factors rather than a comprehensive evaluation of their products and services. They emphasized that there is no evidence or due process to justify these actions and highlighted that their data services and engineering practices have been validated by independent third-party assessments.
The government’s chief information officer raised concerns about how these apps collect data, which can provide significant access to the contents of mobile devices. Their primary goal is to maintain the security of government networks and data, even though they haven’t found any evidence of information compromise resulting from employees using these apps.
Is WeChat a threat to global governments?
Canada’s chief information officer determined that WeChat poses an “unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.” This is because the way WeChat and Kaspersky apps collect data on mobile devices provides them with “considerable access” to the device’s contents, although there’s no evidence of government information compromise.
WeChat is recognized as one of the world’s most popular apps, often described as a combination of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and PayPal. It boasts over 1 billion users, primarily in mainland China, who use it for various tasks like ordering groceries, booking appointments, and making payments without leaving the app.
Canada’s decision follows an earlier ban on TikTok, owned by ByteDance, due to similar cybersecurity concerns. The worry has been that TikTok or its parent company could be compelled by the Chinese government to provide user data. A former ByteDance employee alleged that the Chinese Communist Party had accessed TikTok user data on a large scale for political purposes. While TikTok disputes this claim, it raised further concerns.
WeChat hasn’t faced as much scrutiny as TikTok on the global stage, mainly because it is more popular among Chinese speakers. In the past, former U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to ban both WeChat and TikTok via executive orders, but these attempts were later blocked. President Joe Biden subsequently revoked these executive orders.
So, while WeChat’s influence and popularity are undeniable, concerns about data security have prompted governments, including Canada and the United States, to take action.