U.S. President Donald Trump has issued executive orders banning transactions with two leading Chinese apps: controversial video-sharing app TikTok and WeChat, one of the world’s most popular social media platforms.
The separate orders, citing national security concerns, were published late Thursday and take effect in 45 days. They prevent any transactions with WeChat or TikTok by any person, or involving any property subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
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“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” said the WeChat order.
Contacted by Variety, Tencent owner of WeChat said that it had no immediate comment. Tencent shares, which trade in Hong Kong, were down 2.5% on Friday morning local time.
The moves feed into a growing confrontation between the U.S. and China over matters ranging from national security, to human rights, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and the recent imposition by Beijing of a National Security Law in Hong Kong.
“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 order against WeChat reads.
TikTok has already come under severe pressure from the White House. Its owner, the Chinese firm ByteDance has begun talks to sell off its operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. U.S. tech giant Microsoft said it was aiming to conclude a deal to buy the assets before Sept. 15.
Developed by Tencent as a replacement for its QQ messaging platform, WeChat has become almost ubiquitous in China, where it is known locally as Weixin. Tencent recently said that the service had 1.2 billion monthly active users. It has grown into a “super app” through the addition of payment services, news, video, games and music activities, as well as by opening its platform to thousands of mini-programs hatched by third party developers.
Unlike ByteDance, Tencent maintains little distinction between WeChat’s core messaging functions within China (Weixin) and outside (WeChat), making it widely used by Chinese families and businesses based overseas, though some of its additional functions such as financial transactions are not available.
WeChat recently attracted unwanted attention, when Tencent explained that it does not censor the postings of WeChat’s overseas users, but that it does monitor the activity of those users in order to better regulate the activity of its mainland Chinese users.
All Chinese social media platforms are required to share data with the Chinese government and to act as a front-line censor of content that the Chinese government determines is anti-social or illegal.
ByteDance insists that its Douyin service in China is wholly separate from TikTok in the rest of the world. But the company has had a hard time convincing overseas government and regulators of that concept. In order to try to make its point TikTok recently hired former Disney executive Kevin Mayer to head its operations, and said that TikTok data is not stored on servers within China. However, it was recently one of 58 Chinese-owned apps banned by India following deadly armed skirmishes along the two countries’ shared border.
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