Personal data accessed via WeChat used to aid crimes

Summary:A function available on the popular messaging app, which can locate users in the vicinity, has reportedly led to several criminal acts in China.

A Beijing court this week reminded the public to utilize WeChat with caution, as a function in the popular messaging app has led to several criminal offenses including rape in China.

According to a NetEase news report Thursday, which cited Chinese newspaper Legal Evening News, a function in WeChat allows users to locate other app users who are within 1,000 meters of their current location. If one user records his own position and the distance of another user, he need only change his location twice, record the distances accordingly, and then be able to identify the exact position of another user through some simple geometric calculations.

The report also conducted some field tests, proving this methodology of locating a user was possible. It is based on simple geometry knowledge that seeks to determine the point of intersection, said a mathematics professor from the Beijing Normal University.

Legal Evening News said 49 crimes were reportedly committed based on data obtained through this WeChat feature over the past years, among which half were rape cases. A guy in Zhejiang province, for example, made acquaintance with seven girls through WeChat and then raped them after identifying their location. The report also noted that the police had cracked down on organized prostitution cases which were found to have located potential clients through this WeChat function.

The feature can be turned off to protect personal information being unknowingly leaked to the public, said the report. The total number of WeChat users has reached 450 million, of which over 70 million are users based outside China, Tencent's president Martin Lau announced earlier this week.

Topics: Security, Apps, China, Mobility, Smartphones

About

Cyrus Lee, writing under a pen name, is a Hong Kong-based reporter in an English-language newspaper and a correspondent for a radio station.

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