Trump Administration Formally Bans TikTok, WeChat Apps from Online Stores in U.S.

“The U.S. Department of Commerce today announced that it will, as threatened, implement a ban on the TikTok and WeChat apps, thus censoring tools Americans use to communicate each other while blaming it all on China’s Communist rule.

As of Sunday, online mobile or app stores will not be able to distribute or update either WeChat or Tiktok. WeChat will further be banned from processing payments within the United States. This enacts President Donald Trump’s August executive orders, in which he claimed that the two apps threaten the United States due to their parent company’s ties to the Chinese government.”

Do you really need to worry about your security on TikTok? Here’s what we know.

“TikTok has repeatedly denied that it has or ever would give up user data to the Chinese government. The company says it stores American user data on servers in the US and Singapore, which ostensibly would make it harder for the Chinese government to tap into. The company has also taken measures to separate its US business overall from its Chinese parent company. For example, TikTok doesn’t operate in China (the Chinese version of it, Douyin, does).

The CIA reportedly investigated TikTok’s security threat and found no proof that Chinese intelligence authorities have been snooping on Americans through TikTok, according to the New York Times. The agency’s assessment still found that Chinese authorities could potentially tap into Americans’ data through the app, according to the Times’s summary of the classified report. That’s why last December, the Department of Defense cautioned military personnel to delete TikTok from their smartphones over security concerns. And the Senate voted unanimously to ban federal employees from using TikTok on government devices last week.

“There’s no publicly available evidence that TikTok has ever done anything wrong,” said Segal, “but the concern is that because the Chinese National Intelligence Law of 2017 says any Chinese company can be drafted into espionage, a company could be forced to hand over the data.””

“A second area of concern is that apps like TikTok and WeChat censor content that the Chinese Communist Party disapproves of. On this front, there are more documented concerns, especially about WeChat.

WeChat has been found to intercept and censor political messages sent by Chinese users to US users. A report in May by Canadian researchers CitizenLab found that the app was blocking certain messages, including a political cartoon depicting the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was critical of the Chinese government. The report also found that WeChat was analyzing messages sent by international users, including those in the US, to scan for and block politically sensitive content before it could circulate among Chinese users.

With TikTok, there have been accusations — without definitive proof — of censorship at the behest of the Chinese government. Last year, internal company documents showed TikTok was instructing its staff to moderate content in line with the Chinese government’s censorship of topics like the Tiananmen Square massacre and Free Tibet, according to leaked guidelines published by the Guardian. But these guidelines were part of broad rules against controversial discussions on international politics across countries, so there’s no explicit proof that this was a directive from the Chinese government to TikTok. Another oft-cited concern about potential political censorship on TikTok is that during last year’s Hong Kong independence protests, there weren’t a lot of results for popular hashtags of the protest movement. But there’s no proof that the company was actively censoring content or whether people just weren’t posting about it.”

“It’s important to put all of this in context. TikTok and WeChat’s political troubles in the US don’t exist in a vacuum, but rather inside a larger web of complex China-US politics. Since 2018, Trump has waged a trade war with China over free trade policies that he feels disadvantage US manufacturing. And increasingly, tech has become tangled up in this war, involving Chinese-owned dating apps, drone companies, and telecom hardware makers.”

“Chesney stressed, the US isn’t making the first move here. American companies have long been banned in China, where companies that started off by building copycats of major US tech apps — Baidu is China’s answer to Google, Didi its Uber, Weibo its Twitter — have grown into tech powerhouses. US social media companies have tried, unsuccessfully, to enter the Chinese market.”

“Several analysts told Recode that some of the concern about TikTok and other Chinese technology companies is valid. But the way the TikTok order in particular has been executed — with Trump going back and forth on whether he’d approve a TikTok-Microsoft sale, and at one point demanding a cut of the deal — has been haphazard and has given the global business community a sense of distrust toward the US government.”

Trump Is Trying To Take Away Americans’ Access to Popular Apps by Executive Order

“The Trump administration has been hyping its hate for TikTok (and, now, WeChat) as a national security matter. That premise is incredibly thin.

Yes, China’s government could compel U.S. user data from Bytedance, but it’s hard to imagine for what purpose it would do this or how this would somehow threaten the country’s safety. It’s not as if TikTok requires users to submit especially sensitive data. And if the kind of data users provide TikTok really is a huge threat in Beijing’s hands, then this threat extends to all digital tools made in China. For that matter: The U.S. government can pry user records from American tech companies—and while the Chinese Communist Party poses little threat to individual Americans outside China, the American authorities can use your data to punish you.”

What’s going on with TikTok, China, and the US government?

“TikTok, the short-form video app that’s been downloaded 1.5 billion times, is one of the most exciting and goofiest places on the internet, and possibly the only truly fun social media network in 2019. It is also based in China — and that’s the part that has some users, and now, politicians, concerned.”

“US politicians’ concern over TikTok began with an investigation the Guardian published on September 25, which revealed leaked documents that showed TikTok instructing its moderators to censor videos that mentioned topics sensitive to the Communist Party of China: Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and the religious group Falun Gong, for instance. The Guardian’s investigation came after the Washington Post noted that a search for Hong Kong-related topics on TikTok showed virtually zero content about the ongoing and widely publicized pro-democracy protests, which were a major topic on other social media sites at the time. ”