Biden Drops Trump’s Ban on TikTok And WeChat — However Will Proceed The Scrutiny : NPR

President Biden on Wednesday lifted former President Donald Trump’s measures against the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat. Kiichiro Sato / AP hide caption

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Kiichiro Sato / AP

President Biden on Wednesday lifted former President Donald Trump’s measures against the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat.

Kiichiro Sato / AP

Former President Donald Trump’s TikTok and WeChat bans were officially lifted on Wednesday, but testing of Chinese apps continues under the Biden administration.

To replace the Trump-era measures, President Biden signed new orders urging the Commerce Department to conduct national security reviews of apps with links to foreign adversaries, including China.

The move marks a fresh start in the relationship between Washington and TikTok, the successful video sharing app from Beijing-based company ByteDance, and WeChat, the popular messaging app from 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 spoken to White House officials in both governments about the future of apps.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a ban were reintroduced, but for more rational reasons,” said Lewis. “If I were TikTok, I would think about what I can do to ward off another ban.”

Biden’s Executive Order prescribes accountability measures that TikTok does not currently have, including a “reliable third-party review of the app” for possible security risks.

Because of its ties to China, US officials remain concerned about how the apps handle Americans’ data, Lewis said.

“You can be as pure as the blown snow, but every time Xi Jinping wants to lean on you, he can and you have no attraction,” he said.

As part of Biden’s new order, the Department of Commerce will conduct an “evidence-based” assessment of apps with Chinese connections that may pose a security risk and “take action if necessary” based on those assessments.

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The measured tone is in stark contrast to Trump, who tried to ban the apps last year. His aggressive push against TikTok and WeChat puzzled and panicked the people in the US who use the apps. While millions turned to TikTok for diversion and fun during the pandemic, many American companies rely on WeChat for sales, marketing, and other transactions with customers in China. Trump’s actions also led to lawsuits and a disruption in the federal courts’ enforcement of his policies.

To reassure Trump, TikTok also looked at potential sales to American firms, including Microsoft, Oracle, and Walmart. However, no agreement was ever reached.

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The owners of TikTok, the world’s most popular app, hesitated to sell the first China-based app, which was successful worldwide. State media in China called Trump’s tactics against TikTok “nothing more than robbery in broad daylight”.

Biden’s move to drop Trump’s executive measures had been expected since at least February, when the government put Trump-era orders on hold.

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Months before Trump attempted to shut down TikTok, the company had held talks with the United States Foreign Investment Committee, a multi-agency body that reviews foreign-owned companies.

ByteDance, the company owner of TikTok, is still involved in these negotiations on a deal to ensure that Americans’ data is not at risk of being accessed by Chinese authorities.

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TikTok has long claimed that there is a firewall between him and his business owner in China. TikTok executives say no data on American users is stored on Chinese servers; that data can only be obtained from TikTok with the consent of the US security team.

According to TikTok’s Terms of Use, user data can be shared with ByteDance. However, TikTok says Chinese government officials never asked for information about US users. Should Beijing ever make such a request, TikTok’s lawyers say it would be denied.

The amount of data TikTok pulls from its cell phone users is comparable to what other apps collect, including those owned by Facebook and Google.

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