China is Forcing Citizens to Download an App Made by Alibaba
Here goes “Xuexi Qiangguo” for the people!
“Xuexi Qiangguo,” a Chinese government propaganda app that recently became a huge hit was developed by Alibaba, but there’s ample evidence there’s social and Government pressure for people in China to download the app.
Here’s the problem, it’s essentially just a propaganda app. Somewhat disturbingly its name translates to ‘Study to make China strong’.
With Huawei’s reputation on the line, the Chinese Government is now making Alibaba vulnerable with its employees admitting to Reuters that it’s the one who developed the app.
Propaganda App Tops Apple’s App Store in China
The Xuexi Qiangguo app is now the most downloaded item on Apple’s App Store in China. If Facebook is a digital gangster what is the Chinese Government?
The app has been released by China’s Communist Party, the app is helping cadres learn more about its political doctrine according to the South China Morning Post. Rumors online shows Chinese Netziens feeling social pressure to download the app.
Are we entering an era when global citizens can be forced or coerced into downloading an app? In an era where we don’t even have basic data privacy, what new levels of technological authoritarianism will we have to endure?
Just last week, the propaganda app knocked Wechat and Tik Tok’s Chinese version Douyin off the “most popular app” pedestal in Apple’s China app store. China’s political behavior vs. smaller countries like Canada and New Zealand in recent times has been very odd (akin to bullying tactics), and with this “government-app” crackdown of downloads, it’s really a weird sign for the Chinese Government’s use of technology.
- The app’s name literally translates to “Study to make China strong” and is a play on the government propaganda theme of applying President Xi Jinping’s thoughts.
- SCMP calls this a ‘slick tool’ for teaching “Xi Jinping Thought”. The rest of the world calls this a propaganda misuse of technology. Heck this is arguably worse than Trump’s use of Twitter.
- Released by the party’s publicity department in January, Xuexi Qiangguo weirdly masquerades as a news aggregation platform for articles, short video clips and documentaries about President Xi Jinping’s political philosophy.
Alibaba likely had no choice put to develop the app, but this could impact its reputation among foreigners that will be counter-productive to its stock value abroad. To understand how close tech companies have ties to the Government we have to remember Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been a member of China’s Communist Party since the 1980s!
As a tech sociologist and quasi-futurist I have to wonder at how the state can legitimize the popularity of an app by fair means or foul? Can you imagine feeling government, civic and peer pressure to download an app? It’s nearly unthinkable for most countries and borders on being an affront on a citizen’s basic freedoms of human rights.
If I was the Chinese Government, I’d supercharge the app with spyware. In an age where surveillance capitalism is cool with companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, the abuses of that paradigm are just beginning to show up on our radar and will likely get radically worse before they get better. What really worries me is how a neural interface (that eventually replaces mobile devices) will do to us.
In age when social media has been hacked and has become a nemesis to our mental health, how much worse can it get? Our attention isn’t just being used for advertising to grow, but for worrisome authoritarian practices to take place. The internet is legitimizing a dark use of technology that’s now going way beyond privacy invasion and censorship getting into social credit ranking and conformity punishments.
The extreme centralization of platforms like Facebook and WeChat are really very dangerous for the end consumer and global citizens. The app was developed by a largely unknown special projects team at Alibaba known as the “Y Projects Business Unit”. The means the Chinese Government can ‘weaponize’ Chinese tech companies ‘at will’ against their own obstacles to achieve peculiar end-games and results.
While nationalism is no stranger to brainwashing citizens, China augmented with AI could take this to new levels as the Chinese consumer becomes a more important member of the global economy with each passing year. If the U.S. vs. Huawei is also a propaganda war, it’s pushing China to new ways to exploit what is now possible with technology.
Xuexi Qiangguo, which can also be translated to “Study powerful country”, shows just how arrogant and peculiar China’s sense of its own future importance is and will be. China’s version of the internet is not anonymous, you cannot just get away with trolling online like in America. Xuexi Qiangguo requires users to sign up with their mobile numbers and real names.
The country’s propaganda department has released the app ahead of next month’s National People’s Congress in Beijing, China’s top annual parliamentary gathering. The use of app tech remains highly problematic in an age where global citizens are severely addicted to them, and shows a corruption of our shared mental health space that’s increasingly being used by bad actors on all stages for nefarious ends.