Users Training WeChat’s Image Recognition System Without Knowing

Farai Mudzingwa Avatar
Wordcamp Harare

Some research published has brought to light the fact that WeChat users are unknowingly contributing to a database of blacklisted images as part of Chinese efforts to censor the internet.

Due to the fact that Chinese companies have to monitor content on their platforms to avoid getting in the government’s bad books, once you consider that they will be held liable. This could result in suspension or some fines


The research details the following regarding the image database:

  • When a user sends an image, WeChat checks to see if an image’s fingerprint, which is the same for identical images and is easy to compute, has been included on a blacklist. If it has, the image is prevented from reaching the intended recipient, according to the researchers. The process is completed in realtime.
  • If the image is not on the blacklist, it is sent to the recipient. However, the image is then retroactively analyzed for sensitive content.
  • Text in a photo is analyzed using optical character recognition. The image’s likeness is also compared to others on the blacklist for so-called harmful content. This process takes a longer time to complete.
  • If unwanted content is found, the image’s fingerprint is added to the blacklist.
  • WeChat’s Newsfeed-like feature Moments and group chats are typically more heavily scrutinized than one-on-one conversations.
  • WeChat’s censorship is reactive to big news events, the researchers said, including the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wenzhou in Canada earlier this year, China-US trade tensions, and US elections.

The fact that WeChat operates in China means though users did not know this was going on, it doesn’t seem like this revelation will be a huge deal since internet activity is closely monitored and censored anyway.

Once you also consider how deeply embedded WeChat is in the Chinese economy, as most people use WeChat for payments, it’s hard to see people deserting the application over something that isn’t too surprising to them anyway.

Also read, 7 Really Good Features On Telegram That WhatsApp Should Have

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  1. Oliver Queen

    we need this in zimbabwe

    1. Farai Mudzingwa