Californian citizens and a pro-democracy association filed a complaint on Wednesday against Chinese tech giant Tencent, accusing its WeChat application of censorship and surveillance, the same arguments as former US President Donald Trump, who failed to have it banned in the United States.
The plaintiffs claim that the social network shares user data and communications with the Chinese state and uses it “to improve Tencent’s censorship and surveillance algorithms,” according to legal documents filed in a California court.
Donald Trump has tried on several occasions to attack WeChat, which he considers, along with other Chinese platforms, to be threats to “national security”, because of the obligation for companies in that country to respond to their government’s requests for data.
Tencent’s “problematic rules and practices” “harm California users of WeChat in various ways, including in terms of financial loss, emotional trauma and psychological stress,” the plaintiffs say.
Six anonymous citizens and Citizen Power Initiatives for China, an American association which campaigns for democracy in China, are at the origin of the lawsuits.
According to them, Tencent’s practices violate, among other things, the right to data privacy and the freedom of expression of California users of WeChat.
They are asking the judge to declare Tencent’s activities illegal in California and to order the company to pay damages.
“Democracy depends on everyone’s ability to communicate freely, without political censorship, and we hope these lawsuits will help Chinese-speaking Californians, who make up the bulk of the Chinese diaspora, to do just that,” commented dissident Yang Jianli , the founder and president of the association, in a press release.
Donald Trump signed decrees against the social network TikTok and against WeChat this summer, but legal actions have prevented their entry into force and the government’s appeal procedures have not succeeded at this stage.
Two weeks from the end of his term, he signed a new decree aimed at banning any transaction with eight Chinese payment or office automation services within 45 days, including WeChat Pay and Alipay. His administration was also considering banning Americans from investing in Alibaba and Tencent.
Tencent could not be reached immediately.