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Biden Reverses Trump Ban on TikTok, WeChat

Credit: Adam Schultz/White House

American President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday revoking the bans on the Chinese platforms TikTok and WeChat, reversing the orders handed down by former President Donald Trump.

Biden stated, however, that he will direct Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to investigate any apps with ties to foreign adversaries which may place American data at risk or violate privacy or national security of the United States.

Biden’s action on Wednesday replaced a number of executive orders put into effect by President Trump last year, which blocked Chinese-owned apps including TikTok, WeChat, and Alipay from US app stores.

In addition, the ban called for further measures to prevent them from operating in the country.

New Framework to Investigate National Security Risks

The most wide-ranging effects of those earlier orders were forestalled by ongoing court cases, but Biden’s order will revoke them in their entirety.

The new administration’s executive order will create a new framework for determining the national security risks of transactions that involve apps that have some connection to the governments or militaries of foreign adversaries, like China — and/or those that collect sensitive data from American consumers.

Officials from TikTok and WeChat did not immediately respond to a request for comments by interviewers from the tech news website The Verge.

Chinese-owned Apps Still Facing Uphill Battle

A senior administration official said on Wednesday “The administration is committed to promoting an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet and to protecting human rights online and offline, and to supporting a vibrant global digital economy.

“The challenge that we’re addressing with this EO is that certain countries, including China, do not share these commitments or values, and are instead working to leverage digital technologies and American data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks,” the official pointed out.

Biden’s new order calls on the Commerce Department and other federal agencies to work together to make new recommendations to protect the American people against the collection, sale, and transfer of sensitive consumer data to any and all foreign adversaries.

The Commerce Department should subsequently make recommendations for future executive actions or even legislation to address such concerns.

The US’ Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS is still awaiting action regarding its investigations, undertaken during the Trump administration.

At that time, the CFIUS set a number of deadlines for apps such as TikTok to divest themselves from their Chinese owners; in the case of TikTok, that is the Chinese firm ByteDance.

Oracle was reportedly set to purchase TikTok in order to head off the former administration’s ban for several months, but that deal never came to pass.

However, a senior administration official assured the press on Wednesday that “The CFIUS action remains under active discussion by the US government.”

Today’s executive order is just the latest move from the Biden administration to address the ongoing, multifaceted challenges from China.

Biden signed a different order expanding a Trump ban on American investment in Chinese companies allegedly having ties to China’s military just last week. The order stipulated 59 different companies that are now barred from investment, including all those that create and deploy surveillance technology.

Such technology has been — and is still being — used against Muslim minorities in mainland China as well as peaceful government dissidents in Hong Kong.

A senior administration official told interviewers on Wednesday that additional actions against China will be forthcoming, as Biden makes his first trip in office to meet with leaders of the leaders from the Group of 7, as well as NATO and the European Union form June 11-13 in Cornwall, UK.


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