The White House campaign against China's most popular apps escalated dramatically in the last day, as President Donald Trump declared both TikTok and WeChat to be national emergencies. He said the administration will ban or curtail their operations in September.

Trump late yesterday, August 6, 2020, signed two very similar executive orders to address the threat that is widely acknowledged to be posed by TikTok and WeChat.

"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," both orders read. "The United States must take aggressive action against the owners" of the apps "to protect our national security."

The White House explained its "national security" concerns about the apps and their parent firms in a pair of highly similar letters to congressional leaders.

In similar letters to congressional leaders, the White House expressed its "national security" concerns about the apps and their parent companies.

"TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users," the TikTok letter reads, continuing:

"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," both orders read. "The United States must take aggressive action against the owners" of the apps "to protect our national security."

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. TikTok also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive, such as content concerning protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. TikTok may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party.

WeChat does all that, too, the other letter alleges, and it also "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."

WeChat does all that, too, the other letter alleges, and it also "captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the CCP to keep tabs on Chinese citizens who are naively enjoy the benefits of a free society while not realizing that they are being spied upon by the CCP.

The orders make it clear that in addition to concern about Americans' user data potentially being sent to and digested by a foreign government, the orders are also part of the ever-escalating trade tensions between the Trump administration and China. These tensions have led to bans on equipment from Huawei and ZTE, increased tariffs on imported goods, and crackdowns on seepage of IP from top US research universities, among other actions.

The exact parameters of the orders are vague and unspecific, but neither explicitly bans the use of WeChat or TikTok in the US. Nor do the orders technically prohibit the developers' respective parent companies Tencent and ByteDance from operating in the United States.

Strocks of these two companies have dropped recently in light of the recent spotlight on CCP misdeeds, Bloomberg reports.

What the orders do ban, however, are "transactions" related to ByteDance or WeChat—but not, apparently, the rest of Tencent. Those transactions are not clearly identified in either order, which instead say that the Secretary of Commerce (currently Wilbur Ross) has 45 days to "identify the transactions subject" to the order.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/08/trump-plans-tiktok-wechat-ban-declares-apps-national-emergency

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