Kiichiro Sato / AP
Former President Donald Trump’s TikTok and WeChat bans were officially dropped on Wednesday, but review of Chinese-owned apps will continue under the Biden administration.
To replace Trump-era actions, President Biden signed new orders calling on the Commerce Department to launch national security reviews of apps with links to foreign adversaries, including China.
The move represents a relationship reset between Washington and TikTok, the successful video-sharing app owned by Beijing-based Bytedance, and WeChat, the popular messaging app run by Shenzhen-based Tencent. But the apps are “not out of the woods yet,” said James Lewis, who heads technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has been in discussions with White House officials in both administrations about the future. applications.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a ban reinstated, but on more rational grounds,” Lewis said. “If I were TikTok, I would think about what I’m doing to avoid another ban.”
Biden’s executive order imposes liability measures that TikTok currently does not have, including a “reliable third-party audit” of the app for a possible security risk.
Because of the ties to China, U.S. officials remain concerned about how apps handle Americans’ data, Lewis said.
“You can be as pure as beaten snow, but whenever Xi Jinping wants to lean on you, he can do it and you have no attraction,” he said.
As part of Biden’s new order, the Commerce Department will launch an “evidence-based” assessment of applications with Chinese connections that may pose a security risk and “take action, if necessary” based on these reviews.
The measured tone contrasts sharply with Trump, who tried to ban apps last year. Its aggressive push against TikTok and WeChat has confused and panicked people in the United States who use the apps. While millions of people have turned to TikTok for entertainment and fun during the pandemic, many US companies rely on WeChat for sales, marketing and other transactions with customers in China. Trump’s actions have also led to lawsuits and the suspension of enforcement of his guidelines by federal courts.
To appease Trump, TikTok also explored potential sales to U.S. companies including Microsoft, Oracle, and Walmart. However, no deal was ever reached.
The owners of TikTok, the world’s most popular app, were reluctant to sell the world’s first successful China-based app. Chinese state media called Trump’s tactics against TikTok “nothing less than a robbery in broad daylight.”
Biden’s decision to drop actions by Trump’s executive had been expected since at least February, when the administration put Trump-era orders on hold.
Months before Trump attempted to shut down TikTok, the company was in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency panel that examines companies owned abroad.
ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, is still involved in these negotiations over a deal to ensure that Americans’ data is not at risk of being viewed by Chinese authorities.
TikTok has long maintained that there is a firewall between itself and its business owner in China. TikTok executives say no data on US users is hosted on Chinese servers; this data can only be obtained with the permission of the TikTok security team based in the United States.
According to the TikTok Terms of Service, user data may be shared with ByteDance. Yet TikTok claims Chinese government officials have never asked it for information about US users. If Beijing made such a request, lawyers for TikTok say it would be denied.
The amount of data TikTok extracts from its cell phone users is comparable to what other apps collect, including those owned by Facebook and Google.