Reports Claim China Is Mass Harvesting Western Data

Published · Jan 05, 2022

New research indicates that China is adjusting the scope of its internet surveillance to include regions outside of its territory. In particular, evidence suggests it’s collecting data on foreign nationals from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

The Washington Post has reportedly reviewed hundreds of Chinese bidding documents, company filings, and contracts. They all relate to tech that allows China to gather information on individuals.

Although they focus on Chinese citizens, they also include the surveillance of foreigners through social media platforms. With Twitter’s 300+ million monthly users and YouTube’s two billion users, this is massive coverage.

The contracts that include surveillance of Western media point to over 300 Chinese projects. The documents also show that various Chinese departments are acquiring more sophisticated technology.

Apparently, this includes a $216,000 intelligence program that analyzes Western conversation on Hong Kong and Taiwan and a $320,000 media software program that mines social media to create a database of Western academics and journalists.

That way, the government can understand anti-Chinese networks better. According to The Post, this is part of a campaign by Beijing to gain control over the country’s image abroad.

Not the First

On the surface, it appears the purpose of this is to guide public opinion on China. While countries often surveil their own citizens, extending that surveillance outwards doesn’t happen as often.

China is not the first nation to do this, however. The striking revelations about the American NSA can’t be forgotten.

For the time being, China is scraping the same sort of data that could be found publicly on services like background checks and people search sites.

The data the NSA was collecting was of a far deeper quality.

Still, any mass or targeted surveillance is cause for concern. Twitter and Facebook have rules against mass collection of this nature.

When questioned by The Post, Twitter reaffirmed these rules.

Facebook has yet to respond.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.