Canada Pension Plan invests in China’s tech giant accused of censorship, surveillance and facilitating Beijing’s human rights violations

Canada’s Pension Plan has become a major shareholder of Tencent Holdings Ltd, the Chinese tech giant who’s being accused of carrying out censorship and surveillance at Chinese Communist Party’s behest and aiding Beijing’s gross human rights violations.

CPP now owns 44,238,000 Tencent shares worth $2.71 billion, according to CPP Investments latest disclosure statement [1], making the fund one of the largest institutional holders of the Shenzhen-based corporation that owns social media application WeChat, web portal QQ, game developer Riot Games, and dozens of of other online platforms.

Meanwhile, University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab announced today that Tencent was snooping on Canadian WeChat users to censor users inside China[2]

Citizen Lab also found that Tencent was also carrying out surveillance of international users on the platform.

“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,” Citizen Lab reported. “Upon analysis, files deemed politically sensitive are used to invisibly train and build up WeChat’s Chinese political censorship system.”

A 2016 study by City Lab found that Tencent helped China target ethnic minority groups for censorship and surveillance.

“On WeChat, we identify four blocked Tibet-related keywords including references to the Tibetan independence movement (自由西藏, “Free Tibet”) and a Tibetan rights group (藏青会, “Tibetan Youth Congress”),” City Lab reported. “These keywords are noteworthy given the incidents of Tibetans being arrested by Chinese authorities for sharing Tibet-related content on WeChat.”

“We also found references to Uyghur-related issues,” the report added. “These keywords are in the Uyghur language in both Arabic and Roman script. All of the keywords were related to Islam and generally encourage devotion and sacrifice to the faith (e.g., ئاللاھ يولىدا “for the sake of Allah”, دىن ئىسلام يولۋاس “faith is Islam”). Previous research on censorship of live streaming apps in China has also found blocked keywords in the Uyghur language.”

Human rights groups have long urged investment funds to divest from Tencent.

“Regardless of whether Tencent is a reluctant or an eager accomplice to the Chinese government’s repressive policies, the reality is 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,” Sarah Cook of Freedom House noted[3] “This should be the starting point for anyone considering using, regulating, or investing in the company’s services.”

“Anyone concerned about human rights, electoral interference by foreign powers, or privacy violations by tech giants should divest from the company, including retirement funds,” Cook added. “Socially responsible investment plans should exclude Tencent from their portfolios if they have not already.”

In an emailed statement, Tencent denied that it’s engaging in surveillance of international users.

“We received the Citizen Lab report and take it seriously,” a Tencent spokesperson said. ”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 deliver great user experiences.”

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