US President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order banning US transactions with eight Chinese apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay. While the order cites US national security, it also points to the Indian government’s ban of over 200 Chinese apps, citing the Indian IT Ministry’s statement that the now-banned apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India”.
The executive order, which directs the US Commerce Department to draft rules outlining the specific payments and transactions to be prohibited, will also impact Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat Pay, QQ Wallet and Tencent QQ, as well as CamScanner, SHAREit, VMate and WPS Office. VMate allows movie and video downloads and is owned by Alibaba-operated UCWeb. WPS Office is an office suite app developed by Beijing Kingsoft. Incidentally, India has already banned some of these apps: AliPay, WeChat Work and WeChat, TikTok itself, QQ Music and several other ‘QQ’ apps (developed by Tencent), among others.
The use of applications and other software developed and controlled by the Chinese government threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US, the order says. The directive is a follow-up to Trump executive orders in August banning some US transactions with TikTok and WeChat, both of which face legal challenges on free speech grounds. The ban will come into effect in 45 days, when President-elect Joe Biden would have taken office from Trump.
“By accessing personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, Chinese connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information,” the White House order says.
It adds that such information could be used to track locations of federal US employees and contractors. The order says that the United States must take “aggressive action” Chinese software to protect national security.
After 45 days of the order being issued, the Commerce Secretary will also provide a report to the US National Security Advisor, currently Trump-appointed Robert C. O’Brien, with recommendations to prevent the sale or transfer of United States user data to “foreign adversaries”.