Following hot on the heels of President Joe Biden and the US government announcing a ban on tech companies shipping advanced AI chips to China, authorities north of the border in Canada have revealed an immediate ban on Chinese-owned app WeChat on official devices.
WeChat is a free messaging, social networking, and calling app – think Facebook, Amazon, and WhatsApp all rolled into one – has been subject to recent scrutiny from Western governments over the fear it could be used maliciously to spy on its users.
Commenting on the news, WeChat spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “We hope that the Canadian side will discard ideological prejudices, abide by the principles of market economy and provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese enterprises.”
Russia's Kaspersky Also Falls Foul of Canadian Government
The ban also includes Russian-owned Kaspersky, which is an antivirus and cybersecurity software provider. One of the biggest names in that industry for decades, Kaspersky is no longer regarded as one of the best antivirus software solutions due to its alleged links to Moscow.
Going forward, Canadian government workers who currently use WeChat or Kaspersky will have the apps removed from their devices, and be blocked from downloading them again in the future.
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While there’s no evidence to suggest any information has been already compromised, according to the Canadian government’s statement, the data collection methods of both Kaspersky and WeChat provide “considerable access” to the devices contents.
The President of Canada's Treasury Board, Anita Anand, stated: “We are taking a risk-based approach to cyber security by removing access to these applications on government mobile devices.”
Security or Politics?
With more than a billion users in mainland China alone, WeChat is one of the world’s most used apps. Meanwhile, over 400 million people and 240,000 companies are said to use Kaspersky security solutions across the globe.
Like WeChat, Kaspersky has released a statement blaming rising geopolitical tensions as the real reason behind the ban, rather than genuine security concerns. In it, the company called the Canadian ban “…a response to the geopolitical climate rather than a comprehensive evaluation of the integrity of Kaspersky’s products and services.”
However, Canada is hardly the only country to have cracked down on the Russian cybersecurity software provider. Kaspersky has been subject to a ban on government devices in the US since 2017, while the European Union followed suit a year later, banning its use and publicly calling the software “malicious.”
As Ever, TikTok Started The Craze
Back in February, the Canadian government banned TikTok on government devices, citing similar security concerns. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the time called this a “first step” in the “protection of data, protection of Canadians’ safety and security.”
Both US and allied officials have been similarly concerned that the app, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, could be forced to hand over personal information of its users to the Chinese government. In fact, back in 2020, former US President Donald Trump signed executive orders to ban WeChat and TikTok in US app stores.
This was ultimately lifted in 2021, but both apps are now subject to a national security review by the Commerce Department.