US President Donald Trump, on August 6, signed an executive order banning US transactions with Chinese internet major Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company. A similar order was signed banning US transactions with Tencent, the parent company of WeChat. Both the orders come in effect in 45 days. The executive orders also mention the Indian government banning TikTok, WeChat and 57 other ‘Chinese’ apps over national security concerns.
This action comes less than a week after Microsoft confirmed that it was in talks to buy the TikTok business from ByteDance in four countries: the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It also said that it will complete these discussions no later than September 15. Going by that timeline, Trump’s executive order will kick in just a few days after Microsoft’s estimated deadline for the deal. The Financial Times also reported that aside from the four markers, Microsoft is also looking to takeover TikTok globally.
Arguments made against TikTok and WeChat in the executive orders: The order against TikTok claimed that it “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories”. It said that this data collection “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage”.
Similarly WeChat, “captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives,” the order against WeChat claimed.
What’s unclear: Following 45 days, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of the State will “identify” the “transactions” that are to be prohibited. While TikTok and WeChat are certain to be affected, it is unclear which other services owned by the two Chinese companies will fall under the purview of the executive order. For instance, the White House confirmed to the LA Times that the ban will not impact video game companies owned by Tencent, such as Riot Games. Tencent also owns 40% of Epic Games. Tencent also has a stake in various other American companies such as Warner Music, and Tesla.
While the orders don’t specify how the ban will come about, it is possible that it will impact American users of TikTok and WeChat as both Google and Apple, which are US companies will have to take down the apps from their respective play stores. The actual extent of the executive orders remains unclear at the moment, however; will it stop US advertisers from advertising on TikTok?
The US had been hinting a ban for a while: The United States had been hinting a ban against TikTok and WeChat for a while and seemed particularly inspired by the actions taken in India. Earlier this month, White House advisor, Peter Navarro had said to expect“strong action” from Donald Trump on TikTok, WeChat, and other Chinese apps. Before that Pompeo and Trump himself had hinted at a possible ban.
Aside from the government, even corporate America seems skeptical about TikTok’s security. Financial company Wells Fargo, has directed employees to delete TikTok from company-owned devices amid what it said were concerns about security. Even Amazon sent out an email to employees asking them to delete TikTok from devices which they use to access company email, only to later backtrack, and say that the instruction was an error.