President Trump on Friday issued two executive orders that could affect Americans’ ability to use Chinese-made social media apps TikTok and WeChat.
He ordered Chinese owner ByteDance to divest its U.S. Tiktok business within 90 days.
This follows a previous announcement established a 45-day deadline for an American company to purchase TikTok and restricts US residents’ transactions with WeChat.
TikTok is a video-sharing app (owned by ByteDance) that came to the US in 2018. The app was introduced as a platform for music and goofy videos but has been criticized for censoring information related to China’s treatment of Muslims and Hong Kong. TikTok has an estimated 100 million monthly users in the US, most of them teens and young adults.
WeChat (owned by Tencent) is the primary payments provider and texting app in China, and the new restrictions could have a significant effect on Chinese spending in the US and Chinese spending on American goods sold in China. WeChat has 1.2 billion users, most of them in China, but the app is also popular among foreigners with professional or personal links to China.
President Trump’s executive orders targeting TikTok and WeChat are based on fears that Beijing could utilize the apps to spy on Americans and steal information.
“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,” reads the order.
Earlier this week, Senators voted unanimously to ban federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. “In light of all we know, it is unthinkable to me that we should continue to permit federal employees – those workers entrusted with sensitive government data – to access this app on their work phones and computers,” argues Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), the bill’s sponsor.
Issues with TikTok in the US could be solved with a takeover from Microsoft, which plans to acquire TikTok’s business in the US and three other countries by mid-September.
Author’s Note: Trump is one of few US officials who understands the severity of the threat posed by China. His decisions to expel Huawei from America’s 5G network and restrict TikTok and WeChat are part of a broader strategy to limit Chinese spying in the US and protect Americans’ personal information.