While countless organizations and whistleblowers are unearthing the grave human rights violations fueled by Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and Tencent, countries such as Canada are still joining hands and investing in with such companies.
Canada’s Pension Plan (CPP) has now become one of the major shareholders of Tencent Holdings Ltd, the Chinese tech giant that owns several ventures that include WeChat and RIOT games, among others.
CPP currently owns 44,238,000 shares in Tencent, worth $2.71 billion and making it one of the largest shareholders, based on what we found in the most recent disclosure statement that can be obtained.
CCP is one of the two major components of Canada’s public retirement income system, the other component being Old Age Security.
It is worth noting that Tencent, among other Chinese tech giants, has been time and again accused of supporting human rights violations and blatant acts of censorship. What’s more, it is widely believed that several Chinese tech giants including Tencent massively aid the Chinese Communist Party in carrying out their surveillance activities.
Canada’s very own University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab itself recently announced that WeChat (a messaging platform owned by Tencent) was spying on its users, which we have covered here.
Simply put, WeChat was monitoring all messages received by Chinese residents from international users to filter out and censor any words that were not to be revealed to the Chinese population.
“Documents and images transmitted entirely among non-China-registered accounts undergo content surveillance wherein these files are analyzed for content that is politically sensitive in China. Upon analysis, files deemed politically sensitive are used to invisibly train and build up WeChat’s Chinese political censorship system,” read Citizen Lab’s report.
Apart from Citizen Lab’s recent report, there have also been other organizations that have pointed to the fact that investing in Tencent may be an indirect endorsement of human rights violations, censorship, and surveillance.
Sarah Cook from Freedom House, a US-based NGO, said that “Tencent employees can be expected to censor, monitor, and report private communications and personal data, in many cases leading to innocent people’s arrest and torture.
“Anyone concerned about human rights, electoral interference by foreign powers, or privacy violations by tech giants should divest from the company, including retirement funds. Socially responsible investment plans should exclude Tencent from their portfolios if they have not already,” Cook says.
While the Citizen Lab report has clearly shown how WeChat censors messages and even published results of its experiment to prove censorship and surveillance, Tencent vehemently denied the claims and said that it doesn’t partake in any acts as such.
During the coronavirus outbreak, WeChat was found to be censoring conversations discussing the outbreak, before China had even publicly declared any such outbreak had taken place.
Update May 12, 2020. A Tencent spokesperson had the following comment to add:
“We received the Citizen Lab report and take it seriously. However, with regard to the suggestion that we engage in content surveillance of international users, we can confirm that all content shared among international users of WeChat is private. As a publicly listed global company we hold ourselves to the highest standards, and our policies and procedures comply with all laws and regulations in each country in which we operate. User privacy and data security are core values at Tencent, and we look forward to continuing to sustain user trust and delivering great user experiences.”