China Is Forcing People To Download An App That Tells Them To Delete “Dangerous” Photos

China Is Forcing People To Download An App That Tells Them To Delete “Dangerous” Photos

The surveillance app, the name of which literally translates to “web cleansing,” scans for photos and videos and dispatches all the information to a mysterious outside server.

Ethnic Uighurs in China’s west say they are being forced to download an app that scans cell phones for audio and video files and dispatches their information to an outside server.

According to new research by a team supported by the Open Technology Fund under Radio Free Asia, the app Jingwang Weishi — which translates to “web cleansing” — records a phone’s identifying information, including its IMEI number, model, phone number, and manufacturer.

It also searches through the phone for unique, fingerprintlike identifiers associated with files, particularly photos, audio recordings, and videos, researchers found.

China has ramped up the use of both human policing and high-tech surveillance in Xinjiang, the far-west region that’s the home of the Uighur ethnic minority group and has seen periodic unrest. The government says the measures are necessary on national security grounds, but critics say they violate people’s basic privacy rights.

Jingwang Weishi compares the identifiers it finds against a huge internal database of files, the researchers found, and if a “dangerous” file is identified, the app sends a message to the person using the phone telling them to delete it.

The app also dispatches information on every single file found on the device to an outside server, the researchers said. It does not use any encryption.

“Any user with this app installed will have every file stored on their device sent to a unknown entity for monitoring,” Open Technology Fund said in a blog post describing the findings.