Tencent again clarified it does not store WeChat user communications, after Chinese authorities claimed they accessed deleted chats as part of an investigation.
It had done so in January when Li Shufu, chairman of car maker Geely, was quoted in Chinese media as saying Tencent chairman Ma Huateng “must be watching all our WeChats every day”.
Now, it is having to do damage control after South China Morning Post reported the Chaohu Municipal Discipline Inspection and Supervision Commission as saying on social media it “retrieved a series of deleted WeChat conversations from a suspect” in March, based on which it questioned several people.
While the post was since deleted, it was widely circulated and stirred up a debate about privacy.
Following some backlash, Tencent said: “WeChat does not store any chat histories – they are only stored on users’ phones and computers.”
WeChat hit 1 billion monthly active users in February. In addition to messaging, the app serves as a social networking platform through which users can order food deliveries, book taxis and make mobile payments.
However, in an Amnesty International survey from 2016 on how top messaging app players use encryption to protect user privacy, Tencent came in last with a score of zero.
“Not only did it fail to adequately meet any of the criteria, but it was the only company which has not stated publicly that it will not grant government requests to access encrypted messages by building a backdoor,” Amnesty said.