In a significant development, U.S. President Donald Trump stated, the United States will ban China-owned ByteDance’s TikTok video-sharing app, and Tencent’s WeChat app, in 45 days.
The development comes in the wake of the Trump administration stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” apps, including Chinese ones, from its digital networks citing “significant threats” posed by the two apps.
Tiktok, already banned in India, has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration over the massive trove of data it collects of U.S. citizens through the guise of short videos.
Trump’s executive orders were issued under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which grants the administration sweeping power to bar U.S. firms or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with sanctioned parties.
The development comes in the wake of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanding the “Clean Network” program, which focuses on five areas including ones aimed at Chinese apps, and Chinese telecoms operators who routinely access sensitive information on U.S. businesses and American citizens.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will identify transactions covered by the executive orders once they take effect in mid-September. The orders leaves key questions unanswered about the restrictions.
According to James Lewis, a technology expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, there are around 3 million WeChat users in the U.S. most of whom are Chinese.
“It’s much more a collection risk than TikTok. On the other hand, it is collecting on Chinese,” said Lewis.
In one order, Trump said, the TikTok app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security”.
As for WeChat, Trump said, it “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.”
The orders effectively ban WeChat in the United States in the coming 45 days and bar it “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”
Tencent and ByteDance declined to comment.