Biden drops plan to ban TikTok, WeChat: White House

Lula Sharp
June 10, 2021

An executive order signed by President Joe Biden directs the U.S. Department of Commerce to "evaluate these threats through rigorous, evidence-based analysis and should address any unacceptable or undue risks consistent with overall national security, foreign policy, and economic objectives, including the preservation and demonstration of America's core values and fundamental freedoms". Officials are particularly concerned about apps that collect users' personal data or have connections to Chinese military or intelligence activities.

Trump's administration had worked to ban TikTok and force its Chinese owned company, ByteDance, to sell the app. He said that could lead to a range of potential future actions on an app-by-app basis.

Senior administration officials told the AP that the department will issue recommendations on how the personal data of Americans, especially those using popular Chinese apps, could be protected.

TikTok did not offer comment on the news.

Trump's executive actions targeting ByteDance, a Beijing-based firm that owns TikTok, and WeChat, which is owned by the Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, were blocked by several federal court orders.

Notably, the Biden administration plans to seek more involvement of other friendly countries in its efforts to police data practices of apps based in potentially unfriendly countries. While millions of individuals turned to TikTok for distraction and fun during the pandemic, many American businesses rely on WeChat for sales, marketing and other transactions with customers in China. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that aims to boost USA semiconductor production and the development of artificial intelligence and other technology in the face of growing worldwide competition. The data includes personally identifiable information and genetic information that would go to people directly linked to foreign adversaries, including China, according to a White House fact sheet.

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TikTok sought relief via the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for a review of Trump's divestment order and the federal government's order to conduct a national security review.

Months before Trump tried to shut down TikTok, the company had been in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the USA, an interagency panel that reviews companies that have overseas ownership. Last year, the Trump administration brokered a deal that would have had USA corporations Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in the Chinese-owned app on national security grounds. Neither Oracle or Walmart returned requests for comment on Wednesday.

Chinese tech firms have produced a raft of top-ranking apps in the U.S. TikTok, which has been working to make Singapore its beachhead following the U.S. government's attempted ban, came in second among the free apps on the U.S. App Store as of writing.

ByteDance, TikTok's corporate owner, is still involved in those negotiations over a deal to ensure Americans' data is not in jeopardy of being accessed by Chinese authorities.

TikTok, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the USA, got caught up in Trump's crackdown on Chinese technology companies and their influence in the US.

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