Biden Ends Trump-Era War on China’s TikTok, WeChat Apps

President Biden June 9 signed an executive order effectively ending the former Trump Administration’s efforts to force a sale of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok to American business interests.

The order ends the former administration’s war on the WeChat app, a multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app developed by Chinese media giant Tencent. The Trump administration had sought the ban in the United States, citing national security risks.

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Biden’s order stipulates that the Commerce Department is now tasked with determining the potential security risks associated with software owned and operated by foreign adversaries, among other responsibilities.

“I have determined that additional consideration must be given in addressing the national emergency declared in [Trump’s] Executive Order 13873 of May 15, 2019, including the threat posed by certain connected software applications designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary,” Biden wrote in a letter to Congress explaining his executive order.

Trump last August issued an executive order mandating the ban unless TikTok sold its U.S. operations. An acquisition deal involving chip maker Oracle and Walmart for 20% in a newly configured ByteDance parent remains in the works, but has not been finalized.

A federal judge last September issued a preliminary injunction stopping Trump’s proposed ban that would have effectively stopped 100 million Americans who use TikTok for social messaging and commercial influencing.

The move wasn’t unprecedented considering China blocks its citizens from using American apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Netflix.

Regardless, the political posturing between the U.S. and China over TikTok saw its CEO Kevin Mayer, the former Disney executive who help launch Disney+, exit the company. Mayer was also COO of TikTok parent ByteDance.

In March, Mayer was named chairman of the DAZN sports-themed subscription streaming service.

Trump Administration to Officially Ban TikTok, WeChat in the U.S.

Following months of threats, the U.S. Department of Commerce Sept. 18 announced it would suspend domestic access to Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat beginning Sept. 20. The apps are collectively used by about 100 million Americans for social media videos and communications.

The Trump Administration contends the apps pose a national security threat by accessing U.S. users’ personal data that is stored on Chinese servers and accessed by Chinese security personnel, including the military.

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“Today’s actions prove once again that President Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee our national security and protect Americans from the threats of the Chinese Communist Party,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

Specifically, rollout of Trump’s previously-announced executive orders will restrict the transfer or processing of payments through the WeChat network. It would also bar third-party U.S. firms from offering ISP or peering access to WeChat.

“At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations,” Ross said.

With TikTok operations in the U.S. set to be acquired by Oracle, formal restrictions on the social media app’s use domestically won’t go into effect until Nov. 12. As a result, the only immediate change to TikTok in the U.S. after Sept. 20 is user access to updated app features and maintenance.

The mining of user information across digital apps is not unique to TikTok or WeChat. It is common practice for most digital firms, including Google and Facebook. But those two companies are American and thus not subject to Trump’s ongoing trade spat with China.

Some observers contend Trump’s targeting of TikTok is personal, stemming in part to media reports the app — through third parties — was responsible for the lower-than-expected turnout at Trump’s June campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla.

“A lot of [this ban] just feels to me  to be improvisational,” Adam Segal, a cybersecurity official at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The New York Times.