Privacy and Self-Disclosure on Wechat

 

Like most other Chinese today, I enter my Wechat account more than ten times to check my daily contact information a day on my cellphone and I heavily rely on the app for social interaction, but I have never read its privacy policy carefully, even it records my life in detail.

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(a typical Wechat page on mobile)

As Fuchs pointed out that capitalist prosumption is an extreme form of exploitation, in which the prosumers work completely for free (2012), Wechat also exploits users’ information for its own interest. The company needs the information to improve its service and advertising activities, which is stated in its privacy policy.

However, I think Fuchs exaggerated the conflict between users’ privacy and companies’ interests. For people log in social websites because they have the need for communication and interaction as a member of the whole society. They are not only being exploited by the companies to create content in the platform without gain They also reach their goals of communicating and contacting with their friends and family. So I think Fuchs goes to an extreme and is partial to declare “play time and work time intersect and all human time of existence tends to be exploited for the sake of capital accumulation” (2012, p. 146). Since as a Wechat user, even though all the content on the platform is created by ourselves, I get fulfilled when sharing information with my friends. And what’s more, not all the information we share can be used for marketing target, some sensational expressions and daily conversations on the platform cannot be used for commercial aims, so it is too absolute to say “all human time” is exploited.

But I do agree with Fuchs when he pointed out the privacy on Facebook is the opacity of the company using data based on private appropriation (2012). The situation is the same for Wechat. When I looked through its privacy policy, I cannot find out how the company make deal with information transaction and what specific part of our information is being surveilled and appropriated. We have no idea what kind of people can look our daily contact information and what they may think of us once they know our secrets. The process of appropriation has never open to public that everyone is clear what they can do to avoid key information being leaked when using social networks. Only not using internet may solve the problem, but that is too inconvenient for a person in today’s society.

What Taddicken describe in his work also accord with my experience on Wechat to some extent.  I do know that my personal information may be used for commercial or other purposes by the platform, but the fact does not dampen my enthusiasm to use the app because I attach lots of social relation to it and almost every one I am familiar with in China use it. Under the idea that all other people are being in the same privacy situation as me, I do not think the problem that serious because others are also being watched. And most people may think that since billions of people are leaking their private information, there is little chance the company have time and energy to search their personal specific information. Ideas like this are certainly not good for privacy protection and democracy.

Before I watched the Ted talk and read the two readings, I did not think too much of the privacy protection online. But after I looked the complicated dots that represent how many websites are tracking my information in the Ted show, I start to take the problem seriously. Social websites like Wechat regulate its own privacy policy and even it specifies that the platform will use our information for marketing purpose, we have no ways to resist it. Because once we having access to the app means that we agree to its privacy policy.

But I believe if more people realize the problem and make it a pervasive concept in the society, there will be improvements in the project.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi, Yi,
    I felt the same with you, especially the complex relation between the companies and the users. On one hand, people did create their unique friend circle on social media, improve their relationship with friends, enrich their daily life. It is what social media company bring to them. On the other hand, social media did collect the users’ data and information for the “purpose” of improving customer’s service. It seems like a deal. However, it is a unfair deal because the leakage of information is possible to harm the users’ safety and real life. Thinking about the relation between them, I think it is possible to lighten this problem that the social media company could make the data collection to be opened. For example, the companies are able to release some journals to explain where our information goes to and what kinds of other companies will look at our information. Such measures may ease off the relation between the companies and the users.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. matt says:

    Like you, I thought Fuchs’ argument that users are being exploited sounded extreme. Yes, these sites are making millions off of “prosumers” and their content and discussions. But it’s not as if the sites aren’t providing something for users. Thanks to the Internet and certain online spaces, we now have platforms like-never-before to connect with like-minded communities, interact and also learn new things. Yes, it’d be great if everything was free and collaborative like Wikipedia. But I’m not going to act like the sites owe me because I’m using their product to create content that they use.
    However, I don’t like the other ways we’re being exploited privacy-wise and the ways these sites make money off of us and then evade tax laws via loopholes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. zuowangblog says:

    I actually do not have the idea why Wechat becomes so popular in China. It serves exactly the same function with QQ at first thought it has got a set of amazing features now, but for sure, it serves the need to use instant chatting on a mobile device (QQ goes on a lap mostly). So I do agree with the Metcalfe’s Law. I started to use Wechat just simply because more and more friends are using it around me, and I have to use it in order to keep contract with them. And I do not use the friend circle disclose things, either, at the very beginning.
    One thing I want to add is that Wechat company actually “promises” it can not retrieve the voice message from its users but the typing content, so I’ve been told that if I need to send some private information like my password of online bank account to someone, I can “speak” it to the one. But of course, I am no sure whether the promise is true now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You wrote: “We have no idea what kind of people can look our daily contact information …” It made me think about the Chinese government surveillance of WeChat. Then in the WeChat privacy policy I read this: “In some jurisdictions, certain Personal Information, such as information about your race or ethnic origin, religious or philosophical views or personal health, is characterised as ‘sensitive’ … You consent to all processing of sensitive Personal Information for the purposes and in the manner described in this Privacy Policy.” This is not surprising, but it does make a chill run down my spine. With WeChat I would not worry as much about the marketing as I would about the government surveillance.

    Like

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