Trump Orders Ban on Transactions With TikTok, WeChat Parent Companies

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 7, 2020

President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders to ban transactions with popular video sharing app TikTok and social media app WeChat in 45 days. The executive orders also ban transactions with the two social media applications’ parent companies, Chinese-owned ByteDance and Tencent Holdings.

The executive order for TikTok said that “any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” would be prohibited “with ByteDance Ltd. (a.k.a. Zìjié Tiàodòng), Beijing, China, or its subsidiaries,” in 45 days after the order, which is after Sept. 20.

The executive order for WeChat said that “any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” would be prohibited with its parent company “Tencent Holdings Ltd. (a.k.a. Téngxùn Kònggu Youxiàn Gōngsī), Shenzhen, China, or any subsidiary of that entity,” in 45 days after the order.

Trump issued the orders under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will define the transactions covered by the prohibition.

Both executive orders said that the United States “must take aggressive action against” the owners of TikTok and WeChat to protect U.S. national security. Both orders also noted that the applications automatically capture “vast swaths of information from its users,” amounting to actions that threaten “to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

Such information captured from users include Internet and other network activity information, such as location data and browsing and search histories, the executive order for TikTok stated. The data collection potentially allows China to “track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage,” according to the order.

A researcher in March 2019 had found a Chinese database that contained “billions of WeChat messages sent from users in not only China but also the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia,” Trump’s executive order for WeChat noted.

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President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks on economic prosperity, at Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The president also noted in both executive orders that the applications reportedly censor content that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deems politically sensitive. Furthermore, the applications may “be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party.” TikTok, for example, had reportedly censored content about protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, and TikTok videos had “spread debunked conspiracy theories” about the origins of the CCP virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.

The orders come just days after Trump threatened to ban TikTok and said that he would allow Microsoft or another U.S. company to buy TikTok.

“I suggested that he could go ahead … I set a date of around Sept. 15, at which point it’s going to be out of business in the United States,” he said on Aug. 3. “But if somebody—whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else—buys it, that’ll be interesting.”

The orders also come after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the administration’s expansion of its “Clean Network” initiative “to secure Americans’ most sensitive information from the CCP’s surveillance state,” and called on American tech companies to remove “untrusted” Chinese apps from their stores.

Both WeChat and TikTok made the list of 59 mostly-Chinese applications that India had banned in late June because the apps “threaten the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”

ByteDance and Tencent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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