US President Donald Trump on Thursday has banned social apps TikTok and WeChat from operating in the United States after 45 days. In two almost identically worded executive orders - one for each app - Trump bans any US entity or person from transacting with these apps by their Chinese parents, and asks the Secretary of Commerce to identify such transactions. The TikTok order also cites Indian action against these apps as one of the precedents of action taken internationally against Chinese apps.
In 45 days, the order bans, "any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd. (a.k.a. Zìjié Tiàodòng), Beijing, China, or its subsidiaries, in which any such company has any interest." A similar statement has been made in the second order for Tencent Holdings, the parent company of WeChat.
This follows Trump's July 31 confirmation that he was looking to ban TikTok, as part of a broader set of actions against Chinese apps. He confirmed his plans to do so to reporters aboard the Air Force One on his way back to Washington DC from Florida last week. Trump was largely expected to sign an order that forced TikTok to sell its US operations.
This order also puts pressure on Microsoft to move swiftly in its talks with ByteDance for acquiring the app. While Microsoft has confirmed that it is engaging with ByteDance to acquire TikTok, the scale or value of this transaction is still under wraps.
TikTok is a widely popular short-video app that is especially popular among a younger audience, and a prologue to the executive order states that it has 175 million users in the US, and a billion users around the world.
Action against TikTok by the United States is the latest in a growing backlash against Chinese apps due to data privacy concerns, and a latest rough patch in US-Chinese relations. The two countries have been at odds over allegations of espionage, Chinese actions in Hong Kong, trade and the alleged Chinese concealment of true scale of the COVID-19 pandemic originating from the country.
What does this order address?
The orders puts the US' concerns front and centre while framing these orders, adding that US Dept. of Homeland Security, Dept. of Transportation and the armed forced have already banned the app.
"This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information", the order says. It further claims that the app censors information uncomfortable to China, such as protests in Hong Kong and their treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. The order also alleges that the app is conduit in spreading disinformation.
The app also mentions the Indian example, where India has already banned the app.
"The Government of India recently banned the use of TikTok and other Chinese mobile applications throughout the country; in a statement, India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asserted that they were "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India."
The WeChat order states that the app is used to keep a tab on Chinese nationals in the US, collects swathes of information from countries around the world, and like TikTok, censors content and spread disinformation favouring China.
The Microsoft angle
Last Sunday, tech-giant Microsoft confirmed it was in talks with ByteDance to purchase TikTok's operations in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
However, the Financial Times cited sources that Microsoft now aims to acquire TikTok's global operations. Microsoft was largely expected to buy TikTok's US operations should Trump have ordered ByteDance to divest its US business.
Updated On: 2020-08-07T16:18:08+05:30