China is mining data from Western social media for information on foreign targets, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
The government’s public opinion analysis software is used to gather the data, and China appears to be investing in improvements to the technology.
According to the Post, the $300,000 “foreign personnel analysis platform” mines through U.S. social media to create a database of crucial foreign personnel. Other programs observe those using foreign languages in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where political turmoil is hot.
“They are now reorienting part of that effort outward, and I think that’s frankly terrifying, looking at the sheer numbers and sheer scale that this has taken inside China,” said Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund who has conducted extensive research on China’s domestic public opinion network.
“It really shows that they now feel it’s their responsibility to defend China overseas and fight the public opinion war overseas,” she added.
The Post reached out to Twitter and Facebook regarding the security of their algorithm from being manipulated to target political affiliation, ethnic background, or racial origin.
“Our API [content algorithm] provides real-time access to public data and Tweets only, not private information. We prohibit use of our API for surveillance purposes, as per our developer policy and terms,” said Twitter spokesperson Katie Rosborough.
Facebook did not respond to the outlet regarding its awareness of the monitoring or authorization of data collection on its platform.
The Post reviewed hundreds of bidding documents, contracts, and company filings in China to organize the report.
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