The Wall Street Journal
BEIJING—China is using a widely downloaded mobile app and a translation service to hoover up billions of pieces of data inside its borders and around the world, according to reports published in recent days by researchers in Australia and Germany.
While policy makers in the West have trained their focus on China’s advances in next-generation cellular technology and invasive cyber-surveillance capabilities, the new research suggests that Beijing has broadened its mass-data-collection efforts to include relatively innocuous technologies, such as language translation.
A Chinese propaganda app that has been likened to a digital-age “Little Red Book” of Chairman Mao’s quotations and that has racked up more than 100 million registered users provides a potential backdoor for the Chinese Communist Party to log users’ locations, calls and contact lists, according to a report published Saturday by German cybersecurity company Cure53. The report was commissioned by the Open Technology Fund of U.S.-financed Radio Free Asia.
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Shan Li and Philip Wen , October 14, 2019
The report focuses only on devices operating on the Android operating system, which underpins the vast majority of China’s smartphones. The app is also available for download on Apple Inc. ’s iPhones. In a statement, Apple said the Xuexi Qiangguo app can be downloaded on its devices, but that “this type of ‘superuser’ surveillance could not be conducted on its operating system.”
Ms. Hoffman, the Australian report’s author, said the emergence of companies like GTCOM highlights how innocuous devices and services can serve as tools for the Chinese party-state’s “tech-enhanced authoritarianism” ambitions.
“While there’s an important focus on technologies such as 5G, surveillance or cyber-enabled espionage, this narrow focus misses the bigger picture,” she said.