Donald Trump’s threats to ban TikTok and WeChat made for semi-hysterical reactions from internet-famous stars, but they also marked one of the frontlines of his cold war with China over technology. Trump’s executive order in August alleged that TikTok “automatically captures vast swaths of information” from users and “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.”
Joe Biden revoked that order on Wednesday, replacing it with an order of his own to launch a national security review of apps linked to China and other adversarial nations. Whereas Trump’s order was relatively scattershot, experts told The New York Times, Biden’s establishes a concrete process, making it in some ways more stringent, despite the lack of overt threats. “It’s a bit of a troll to the Trump administration approach, which was exposed in court as being a bit of a hollow process,” attorney Brian Fleming, who focuses on national security and international trade matters, told the Times.
In the lead-up to Trump’s ban, ByteDance, the controlling company of TikTok, had been under heavy pressure to sell if it wished to continue operating in the U.S. marketplace. A number of American corporate entities, including Microsoft, Oracle, and Walmart, were in talks to buy TikTok, but no such deal was ever made. Confronted with the push to sell TikTok, the Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the pitch. “When we see the U.S. pulling maneuvers of economic bullying and political manipulation over non-U.S. companies, we see typical ‘coerced transaction by the government’ and ‘forced transaction by the government,’ which is nothing short of broad daylight robbery,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the time.
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