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US announces effort to get Chinese apps, telcos out of US smartphones and networks

The US State Department on Wednesday announced a wide expansion of their Clean Networks effort that aim at reducing China’s internet presence in the US. Some of the new efforts announced are already in action in some way or the other, but the “clean store” and “clean apps” initiatives are the most notable, aiming to get Chinese apps out of American mobile app marketplaces, and popular US apps out of Chinese app marketplaces.

“PRC [Chinese] apps threaten our privacy, proliferate viruses, and spread propaganda and disinformation. American’s most sensitive personal and business information must be protected on their mobile phones from exploitation and theft for the [Chinese Communist Party]’s benefit,” Micheal Pompeo, US’ Secretary of State said.

  • Clean carrier: This arm of the effort aims at getting Chinese telcos and their infrastructure out of US networks. This, it’s important to note, does not refer to Chinese telecom equipment makers, but Chinese telecom operators themselves. The Trump administration, including its Department of Justice, have asked the Federal Communications Commission to ban China Telecom, a Chinese state-owned telco, from operating in the US.
  • Clean store: Getting rid of Chinese apps altogether from app marketplaces could be an uphill climb for the Trump administration. Nonetheless, TikTok, which has faced threats of a ban in the US, is negotiating a deal that would let Microsoft buy the short video platform’s business in the US and a few other countries.
  • Clean apps: This is closely related to the clean store initiative, and aims at preventing Chinese hardware manufacturers from pre-installing popular American apps on their devices. “We’re working to prevent Huawei and other untrusted vendors from pre-installing or making available for download the most popular U.S. apps. We don’t want companies to be complicit in Huawei’s human rights abuses or the CCP’s surveillance apparatus,” Pompeo said on Wednesday.
  • Clean cloud: “We’re protecting Americans’ most sensitive personal information and our businesses’ most valuable intellectual property – including COVID vaccine research – from being accessed on cloud-based systems run by companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, China Mobile, China Telecom, and Tencent,” Pompeo said. In 2018, amid the US–China trade war, Alibaba stopped expanding its cloud service significantly in the US, partly out of an unwillingness to compete with incumbent US cloud providers, and partly out of fear of regulatory action.
  • Clean cable: This initiative, which aims at preventing China from accessing US-operated undersea internet cables, is also a pre-existing effort. An undersea cable system announced by Facebook and Google was downscaled after the US government flagged security concerns, as the new owner of one of the companies owning some of the fiber pairs had close ties to Huawei.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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