Quebec Groups, Politician Promote Chinese App That Collects Personal Data, Surveils Users

Quebec Groups, Politician Promote Chinese App That Collects Personal Data, Surveils Users
The Sino-Quebec Center in Brossard, Quebec, is seen on March 9, 2023. RCMP says it's investigating this organization, along with the Chinese Family Service of Greater Montreal, which are allegedly clandestine overseas Chinese police service stations. (Noé Chartier/The Epoch Times)
Andrew Chen
Updated:
0:00

A city councillor in Quebec and two local community groups have been promoting a cellphone application that collects and transfers users’ private information to the Chinese authorities and requires users to comply with Chinese law.

Qiaobao is an application developed by a Beijing-based technology company that operates as a subsidiary of the China News Service, which is the second-largest state-run news agency in China after Xinhua News Agency.
The Qiaobao app, launched in June 2016, is part of a project of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO) of the Chinese State Council, the office said in a 2016 news release.
The OCAO is an agency affiliated with the United Front Work Department, a primary tool of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign interference, according to studies cited by Public Safety Canada. In February 2022, a Canadian federal court confirmed that there were reasonable grounds to believe the OCAO is engaged in espionage activities that harm Canadian interests.
Xixi Li, the city councillor of Brossard, Quebec, has been promoting this app to the local Chinese community through the Centre Sino-Québec de la Rive-Sud (CSQRS) and its sister organization in Montreal, the Service à la famille chinoise du Grand Montréal (SFCGM).
Li is the director general of the two organizations, which are both listed among some 50 “overseas Chinese service centrescreated by the OCAO around the world to provide support to new immigrants from China.
In a 2018–2019 annual report, the CSQRS said one of its tasks was to “build and maintain the Qiaobao mobile information platform to attract more overseas Chinese to download and subscribe to the online page of the overseas Chinese service centres.”
The SFCGM had also said on its website that maintaining Qiaobao is part of its work, but that description has since been removed as media began reporting on RCMP investigations into the two Quebec organizations alleged to be operating as illegal Chinese police stations.

‘A Government Requirement’

According to a February 2017 report by a Chinese state media outlet, the overseas Chinese service centre program was to be integrated into the Qiaobao app.
Montreal-based media outlet SinoQuebec also posted a report on the event that month in Hunan Province, China, that was attended by Li. Li was among 46 representatives of overseas Chinese service centres from 32 countries and regions at the event who signed a memorandum of understanding to help facilitate the process of integrating the centres into Qiaobao. The SinoQuebec post said the report originated from SFCGM, one of the two Quebecl organizations where Li serves as director general.
In an interview with Chinese-language media simcinc.com in 2019, Li said in Chinese: “Some people don’t understand why they need to register their personal information when they come here [to the service centres] for help. It’s because it’s a government requirement. It is not only about government funding. The government also needs this data to understand the trends in the community and have a basis for formulating relevant policies.”

Li and her two organizations have not responded to multiple requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

Screenshots of the Qiaobao accounts of various overseas Chinese service centres in Canada show that the service centre in Toronto has more than 32,000 subscribers, the service centre in Vancouver has over 23,000 subscribers, and the service centres in Montreal have over 25,000 subscribers. CSQRS also said in its 2018–2019 annual report that it had over 13,000 followers on Qiaobao at the time.

Service Agreement

The Qiaobao app’s terms of agreement and data collection practice stipulate compliance with the laws of China, including the communist regime’s “religious policy,” as well as its socialist system.

After downloading the app, a “service agreement and privacy policy” page appears, stating in Chinese that the agreement is “governed by the laws of the mainland of the People’s Republic of China.”

The agreement stipulates that, in the process of account registration and use, users “must not disseminate information that violates the laws of the People’s Republic of China on this APP,” and they must comply with “seven bottom lines” that include abiding by the requirements of “the socialist system.”

The agreement also sets out some regulations on the information that users can publish, including some that appear broad and ambiguous, saying users must not “undermine the [Chinese] state’s religious policies” or “damage national honour and interests.”
It also says users must not dodge its censorship by “publishing information that is meaningless, or by deliberately using character combinations to evade technical review.”
Qiaobao extensively collects its users’ personal information, including their real name, gender, date of birth, national ID number, mobile phone number, bank account number, address, and email address. The system also automatically processes the location information of each user’s device through GPS or WiFi.

Notably, the agreement says the company will not transfer or disclose users’ personal information to any unrelated third party “unless required by relevant laws and regulations or judicial, administrative, or other state agencies.”