On August 6th, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively banning Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat.
“TikTok, a video-sharing mobile application owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., has reportedly been downloaded over 175 million times in the United States and over one billion times globally. TikTok 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. 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,” the order said.
The reason for this was essentially that the spread of apps made by Chinese companies threatened US national security and rectifying actions to assist the “invisible hand of the market” were needed.
“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the executive order reads. “At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.”
The second executive order Trump signed on the same day was aimed at WeChat.
“WeChat, a messaging, social media, and electronic payment application owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd., reportedly has over one billion users worldwide, including users in the United States. Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information. In addition, the application 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 executive order detailing the threat posed by TikTok notably bars transactions with ByteDance, not TikTok. This presumably opens up the possibility of TikTok continuing to operate under a US company such as Microsoft, which has been in talks about buying some or all of TikTok.
Trump notably wanted a share of the deal, which is also a ridiculous request.
The US is the second country to legislate against TikTok in recent months. India barred the app, along with over 50 other Chinese-made apps and games, in June.
India said it banned the apps for national security reasons following skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops over disputed territory.
Reportedly, Australia also considered banning TiKTok but its prime minster said there was “no reason” to restrict the app “at this point.”
TikTok blasted the executive order in a blog post that accused the administration of acting in bad faith. The company also suggested it would take legal action to challenge the order.
“For nearly a year, we have sought to engage with the US government in good faith to provide a constructive solution to the concerns that have been expressed,” TikTok’s blog post reads. “What we encountered instead was that the administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.”
The company maintains that it collaborates with the Chinese government to carry out any form of spying.
“With our success comes responsibility and accountability,” CEO Kevin Mayer wrote in a blog post last week. “The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so. Yet, we have received even more scrutiny due to the company’s Chinese origins.”
After all, if China bans apps and websites, it is the work of a “totalitarian regime” that’s abusing its power over the people, it is needless protectionism, and “the invisible hand of the market” should be left to do its work.
When the United States applies heavy protectionism on its companies, bans certain apps, services and products from its market, and then subsequently begins pressuring other countries to do the same, it is simply a means to “safekeep democracy.”
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