This blog has several posts about Weixin because personally I, as the website owner, has a root in China. Although live outside of China, I am still deeply rooted in China, and of course deeply care about China. In my opinion, Weixin is special comparing to other applications in the sense that Weixin represents not only a commercial business in China but also the people, the government, the party, and the country. Weixin is about communication among people, about the rights of speech, about information dissemination, and about culture. Weixin represent the contemporary China.
Besides this, all posts about Weixin on this blog are at https://blog.johannhuang.com/tag/weixin/.
There is no doubt that different countries or even different regions in a country have different regulations in terms of data and privacy in the digital world. Most famously known terms here include GDPR and CCPA. In China, there is also the law called „中华人民共和国个人信息保护法“ as published at http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/c30834/202108/a8c4e3672c74491a80b53a172bb753fe.shtml and explained at https://www2.deloitte.com/cn/zh/pages/risk/articles/china-draft-personal-data-protection-law.html. Needless to say, due to the different purposes behind the laws in different regions, there are also many differences.
The 2 Subsystems under the Same App – Be it Weixin or WeChat
Weixin (微信) is an app which the majority of Chinese cannot avoid due to the fact that many public services in China are bound to it, including both official services and private services. Nowadays, Chinese live all over the world. In oder to accommodate to different law requirements in different jurisdictions, under the same app, there are two significant subsystems, namely, Weixin and WeChat. And sometimes, the app appears in app stores as either Weixin (微信) or WeChat. But the truth is not that the app Weixin uses the subsystem Weixin and the app WeChat uses the subsystem WeChat. The essence which matters here is the account in use in the app.
To simplify the description, let’s assume the underlying things are all in English. When the app is downloaded from Apple App Store (USA), then the app is called WeChat. (It is probably the same app if one downloads 微信 from Apple App Store (CHN).) When one logs-in with an account which belongs to the subsystem Weixin, the name on the top banner will be displayed as „Weixin“ (when the app language is set to English, or many other non-Chinese language; independent of which country one is currently in), while one logs-in with an account which belongs to the subsystem WeChat, the name on the top banner will be displayed as „WeChat“ as shown below. What a sneaky way to get around the regulations!
The names on the top banner are just one indication, the real differences are functionalities and services enabled, and the data privileges.
How Weixin decide which subsystem one’s account should be in?
It is not complete clear to me as I didn’t find any information about it published by Weixin. But according to my practices, Weixin utilize the information it can get when one registers a new account including the current country where one is and the jurisdiction where used phone number belongs.
The Troubles from the Two Subsystems
As people living in different jurisdictions are subject to different frameworks of law, not everything is equal, so as in Weixin. My guess: In order to limit people from switching accounts from one subsystem to the other (Maybe just obstructing from Weixin to WeChat – I haven’t tried the way from WeChat to Weixin), Weixin has set up many obstacles in the path of switching subsystems.
One of them is the possibility of unlinking mobile phone number in use, as officially and clearly told at https://kf.qq.com/touch/wxappfaq/150608NniuEN1506086JZFfE.html?platform=15 and https://kf.qq.com/faq/120813euEJVf140716jemeu6.html: „为了保障微信帐号的安全及使用，微信号目前不支持解绑手机号，若您绑定微信的手机号不再使用或其它原因需要更换，请直接在设置中进行“更换手机号”即可。“. (Translation: In order to protect the safety and use of Weixin account, Weixin does not support unlinking mobile phone number at present. If you need to change the mobile phone number you linked to Weixin no longer in use or for other reasons, please directly „Change Mobile“ in the settings.) Okay, let’s do the „Change Mobile“ – boom, not allowed, as given in the following screenshot. (Translation: Due to local regulations, you cannot link this mobile number.) To be honest, I don’t understand why any local jurisdiction would forbid me to use my mobile phone number in Weixin. Anyway, it is told like this.
ADDED on 20220423, in 2022, it seems that WeChat had some updates at the beginning of this year, so I encountered another turn of confirmation of changes. (Maybe trying to be more GDPR compliant)
What are the trouble and potential risks?
Take myself as an example. I come from China and registered my Weixin in China with my Chinese mobile phone number. After living abroad China for several years, I think it is time to stop paying monthly subscription fees for my certain mobile phone number in China. After giving up on the phone number, there is also a possibility that the number will be re-purchased by another person. (Yes, mobile phone numbers would be re-used, I guess not only in China) If I cannot unlink this phone number, you can guess, there is a big threat to me. The person who purchases the re-used number will have access to my Weixin account and all the data here including possibly the bank account access.
What is the cure?
Fortunately, the way is not completely blocked today. (Why today? Because in the past it was completely blocked, as I have tried it in 2020 and 2021 without success and just the same message as shown above – „Aufgrund … nicht verknüpfen.“ and recently I succeeded – yes, it is changing.)
As told above, it is not allowed to Change Mobile from a Chinese mobile phone number to a German phone number (in my case). One must find a way to unlink the current mobile phone number in use, although it is officially given as not allowed. Is there a way? Yes, there is, according to https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/115084050. In short, take the usage of the Appeal path.
After the success of Appeal, the old phone number is unlinked. (The old phone number should not be used in the Appeal path.) As the next step, optional but necessary for the security, is to link Weixin to a new phone number – be it Chinese or an „Aufgrund … nicht verknüpfen“ – or be it the one which is supposed to be in the subsystem Weixin or the one supposed to be in the subsystem WeChat.
There are also several worth mentioning points found by me:
- If the new mobile phone number is as the German mobile numbers conventionally prefixed with 0, do type the 0 before the actual number, although one has chosen the country calling code such as „+49“ and although it is technically wrong. Otherwise, WeChat will fail to delivery the SMS or phone call. What a silly bug!
- One caveat which can result in confusion is that the phone in „Account Security“ can still be displayed as the old phone number although it doesn’t take effects. What another silly bug!
- After the „Mobiltelefon verbinden“ (Translation: Mobile bind), you don’t need to do „Kontakte hochladen“ (Translation: Contacts upload)
- The path may not be as stable as you would expect – possibly out of technical reasons (not the focus and not well tested; can crash) or intentionally by Weixin – but thankfully, it is allowed, should you expect more – yes but no under certain circumstances. (I sent 3 times the SMS to the given phone number before my success)
There are some screenshots (not necessarily in the sequential time order) which may be of interests.
And when somewhat errors appear without a reason.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of WeChat over Weixin
Weixin was born in China and initially designed for people living in China, so naturally the subsystem Weixin includes much more functionalities than WeChat, such as the Red Packet, while WeChat especially in European countries such as Germany where there are more strict regulations in terms of privacy and data usage gives more freedom to users.
Since now I use WeChat, so in this section, I take WeChat as the subject and talk the advantage and disadvantages against Weixin.
The Advantages I Care most – My Data is My Data
If one’s account is in the subsystem WeChat and also in GDPR protected jurisdictions, one will have the option to „Export Personal Data“ in „Settings > My Information & Authorizations“.
Let the screenshots do the talk too.
It does not always happen as you want (and the language encoding can be weird in some languages), without a reason or with a fake reason, but again, should you expect more? With possibility or hope is absolutely better than without possibility, am I right?