U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered a blanket ban on deals with The Chinese owners of popular apps TikTok and WeChat (WeChat Overseas) in U.S. jurisdictions, but details are unclear. Mr. Trump says the popular U.S. apps pose a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy and the economy.
Trump’s ban, which will take effect in 45 days, is unclear what the Trump administration is prepared to do because it is currently just waiting to fill out blank checks. The uncertainty also includes how these orders will affect users of the above-mentioned applications, whether the U.S. government will face legal challenges over its rights to ban consumer apps, and what they (or the Chinese government) will do next. Microsoft is currently in talks to buy a stake in TikTok, a deal that could be forced under threat from Mr. Trump.”
Here’s a summary of some of the key issues related to this:
Who is being targeted for the business?
ByteDance’s TikTok is an increasingly popular video app with 100 million users in the U.S. and hundreds of millions worldwide. The product is considered “fun but silly” and people can post videos of each other singing, dancing and some pranks, an app that is easy to use. Like other social media companies, TikTok has raised concerns about userprivacy and how content is controlled. TikTok has spawned an influential culture that has spawned many pop music; Facebook and Snapchat see it as a competitive threat.
Tencent’s WeChat is an important communications and payment service for Chinese and overseas Chinese, with 1.2 billion users worldwide. Although WeChat did not give an exact number of U.S. users, mobile research firm Sensor Intel estimates that WeChat has downloaded 19 million times in the U.S. since 2014.
In addition, Tencent is intertwined with other major U.S. entertainment brands. Tencent owns a stake in Riot Games, the publisher of the popular video game League of Legends, and has a large stake in Epic Games, the company behind video game giant Fortnite. Tencent has also signed a streaming agreement with the NBA.
What would trump ban do?
The first thing the Trump administration did was spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said earlier this week: “We want to see untrusted Chinese apps off the US app store.” Experts said the vague wording of the order, which prohibits “any transactions” with Tencent or ByteDance within U.S. jurisdiction, could be interpreted as supporting a ban on app stores and other measures. It is unclear how the ban will apply to Tencent’s other assets and partners.
We’ll find out more in 45 days.
Why is the Trump administration cracking down on TikTok and WeChat?
According to two White House officials, who asked not to be named, it was motivated by concerns about collecting U.S. user data and long-standing grievances about China’s business strategy. For a long time, Mr. Trump has been targeting TikTok, but the move against WeChat is an escalation.
But the reality is much more complicated. Mr. Trump’s new coronavirus pandemic in the United States and his dissatisfaction with China were also the reasons for his actions, the officials said. Mr. Trump blamed China for the global outbreak and questioned whether China’s leaders were intent on containing the outbreak and spreading economic disaster to other countries. He also took a private shot at China, accusing it of undermining his chances of re-election and saying he had no intention of striking further trade deals.
Mr. Trump ignored questions from reporters on the tarmac about the executive order at the Bedminster Club.
Is the ban legal?
Experts say it will be difficult for the U.S. government to stop people from using WeChat and TikTok — even if both software is removed from the app store, there is a solution — and it’s unclear whether the president has a legal basis to do so under the powers mentioned in the order. In addition, civil rights groups say the ban may violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Targeted bans on the entire platform seriously undermine freedom of expression online, and improper surveillance of the U.S. government is an act of abuse,” Hina ShaMSI, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an emailed statement. “
TikTok said the company would “seek all remedies” and could file a lawsuit to ensure that the company and its users were “treated fairly.”
Do I need to remove TikTok from my child’s phone?
The problem may not be the result of the Trump administration’s actions, but it is important for U.S. users.
Like most other social networks, TikTok collects user data and adjusts what it publishes. For example, it grabs people’s locations and the messages they send to each other, and tracks what people watch to see what kind of videos they like and how best to serve ads to them. The TikTok-based platform in the U.S. will do the same, so removing TikTok from your child’s phone, but retaining Snapchat, may not be a protective one.
But the U.S. government and some scholars worry that China could force the company to help the government gather intelligence. Sam Sacks, a researcher at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, says it’s still a hypothetical threat for now, but she acknowledges that it could happen.
TikTok said u.S. users’ data was not stored in China and would not be handed over. In response to such hypothetical concerns, the US government has also cracked down on Huawei and ZTE, Chinese telecoms companies, although the companies have also denied facilitating espionage.
There are also concerns that TikTok will censor videos critical of China, which TikTok denies and promotes propaganda about China. Activists in the United States also say TikTok may have violated child privacy laws.
Did TikTok and WeChat really affect Americans’ privacy?
No, but the U.S. government has cracked down on Chinese companies on the grounds of user data privacy. Huawei is China’s first global technology brand and the world’s most influential maker of smartphones and internet devices. The U.S. government has moved to try to cut off Huawei’s access to chips and other technologies, ban U.S. government funds from Huawei’s devices and urge allies not to use the funds. The U.S. government has also blocked Chinese companies from acquiring several U.S. companies.
Some experts say the U.S. government has not taken significant steps to protect Americans’ privacy while lashing out at Chinese technology companies. At the same time, the Trump administration has been embroiled in a tariff war with the Chinese government over its technological ambitions. Moreover, given the risk that election-year politics may increase, Mr. Trump appears to be using friction with China to win over voters.
What happens next?
The U.S. government is actually forcing Byte Dance, the owner of TikTok, to sell the app in an bid to help the U.S. gain a foothold in a large and valuable market such as short video. TikTok is in talks with Microsoft, which has said it plans to complete by September 15.
Can U.S. technology companies benefit from the pressure on Chinese apps?
Maybe. Users can leave TikTok and pay more attention to Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or other apps. Facebook launched an app for tikTok clones on its Instagram service this week, and it’s interesting to choose the time to launch the app.
If Microsoft ends up buying some or all of its TikTok business, it will get a fast-growing app with younger users, which is a brand new consumer business. But some analysts doubt that Microsoft can do anything about a product that is so different from its core office business.
There has also been speculation that Facebook may use Microsoft’s acquisition of TikTok to show just how fierce the social media competition in the Us is, easing the antitrust pressure strain on it.