Over the last twenty years China’s economy has become a world leader. This, by being the low-cost manufacturer and by investing heavily in its technology sector. In many ways the Chinese government has used its technological strength to enhance its own power. They have set up government regulations to allow its domestic businesses to legally absorb Western intellectual property rights and they have used the learning to gather massive amounts of data on their own citizens.
The Chinese Communist Party has developed a “history” app called Study the Great Nation that provides access to official news and images while it encourages people to earn points by reading and commenting on articles as well as playing quizzes about China and its leader, Xi Jinping.
Released in February, Study the Great Nation has become the most downloaded free program in China. Its success results because its use is mandatory for party officials and civil servants. Its usage is essential for making a living in some other professions – local journalists are required to pass a test on President Xi’s life via the app.
Cure 53 was commissioned by the Open Technology Fund, which works on human rights issues. The company found the hidden features when it took apart the Android version of the app.
Apparently the app has several undocumented features that allow the government to spy on more than 100 million citizen-users. An analysis of the app by German cyber security firm Cure 53 revealed hidden elements that provides the government “super-user” access to monitor usage and copy data.
According to Cure 53, though extensive work had gone into obscuring the secret code, there was no evidence that this high-level access had been used.
The Chinese government denies Cure 53’s claims about the app.