China's tech giant Tencent has rolled out a new international anti-COVID-19 “service package” giving private businesses, medical groups and governments free access to a variety of diagnostic and communication tools.
The package allegedly includes access to teleconferencing software with instant subtitling for businesses and a self-screening suite which includes an AI-powered tool along with access to approved “prevention tips,” “epidemic updates” and “medical knowledge.”
Based in Shenzhen, the multi-billion dollar Tencent Holdings has a stake in products you probably already use:
They funded the popular chat app Discord and own stock in the music app Spotify. They're the biggest video game company in the world and one of the largest social media companies, having developed WeChat, QQ and Qzone. WeChat is China's “app for everything”, from communication to mobile payments, with over 1.16 billion active users.
There are reasons to be concerned about this "service package," however.
A few months ago, Canadian democracy activist Jack Jia sounded an alarm when his messages and articles posted to WeChat were being read, monitored and restricted.
Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the original whistle blowers on the Wuhan coronavirus, posted an early warning in December on WeChat, announcing an illness outbreak connected to the Huanan Seafood Market. Dr. Li was later reprimanded by police for “making false comments” and died of the illness in February.
Tencent — a company that hands out hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money to hack iPhones — believes that the English release of their software is a “crucial tool” to help people work remotely, teach online classes and to help medical institutions “provide online consultations.”
According to BBC News, the WeChat app began censoring news about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan as early as January 1, 2020:
Toronto-based research group Citizen Lab found that WeChat blocked combinations of keywords and criticism of President Xi Jinping.
The report also found that WeChat, owned by Chinese firm Tencent, blocked more words as the outbreak grew.
Last year, a security team funded by Tencent demonstrated a new method of gaining access to encrypted phones by photographing the fingerprint of its owner.
Tencent briefly made news in western countries last October after the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted a statement in support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. In response, the NBA's digital streaming partner Tencent joined the China Central Television state broadcaster in announcing that they would refuse to broadcast Rockets games.
In recent weeks, the Chinese-based Zoom teleconference platform was restricted by Germany and Taiwan and banned by SpaceX and Google due to security concerns. Singapore is now cautioning schools to stop using the app for home-based education in light of the numerous hacking and “zoombombing” incidents where malicious users can easily enter the group chat software to play inappropriate video clips.