Donald Trump's TikTok and WeChat bans were officially dropped on Wednesday, but
scrutiny of the China-owned apps will continue under the Biden administration.
To replace the
Trump-era actions, President Biden signed new orders calling for the Commerce
Department to launch national security reviews of apps with links to foreign
adversaries, including China.
represents a reset in relations between Washington and TikTok, the hit
video-sharing app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and WeChat, the popular
messaging app run by Shenzhen-based Tencent. But the apps are "not out of
the woods yet," said James Lewis, who heads technology policy at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies and has been in discussions with
White House officials in both administrations about the future of the apps.
be surprised if you saw a ban reinstated but on more rational grounds,"
Lewis said. "If I was TikTok, I would be thinking about what do I do to
ward off another ban."
accountability measures that TikTok does not currently have, including
"reliable third-party auditing" of the app for possible security
Because of the ties to China, U.S. officials remain
concerned about how the apps treat Americans' data, Lewis said.
"You can be
as pure as the driven snow, but any time Xi Jinping wants to lean on you, he
can do it, and you have no appeal," he said.
Under Biden's new
order, the Commerce Department will launch an "evidence-based"
evaluation of apps with Chinese connections that may pose a security risk and
"take action, as appropriate" based on those reviews.
Civil Liberties Union applauded Biden's move but warned against any future
punitive measures against the apps that could violate the rights of users.
The measured tone
from the Biden administration is a stark contrast with Trump, who tried to
outright ban the apps last year. His aggressive push against TikTok and WeChat
confused and panicked people in the U.S. who use the apps. While millions
turned to TikTok for distraction and fun during the pandemic, many American
businesses rely on WeChat for sales, marketing and other transactions with
customers in China. Trump's actions also led to lawsuits, leading to federal
courts' pausing enforcement of his directives.
To appease Trump, TikTok also explored potential sales to American firms, including Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart. No agreement was ever hammered out, however.
The owners of TikTok, the most popular app in the
world, were reluctant to sell off the first China-based app that has reached
global success. State media in China called Trump's tactics against TikTok
"nothing short of broad daylight robbery."
Biden's move to
drop Trump's executive actions had been expected since at least February when
Trump-era orders on ice.
Months before Trump tried to shut down TikTok, the
company had been in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the
United States, an interagency panel that reviews companies that have overseas
terms of service, user data can be shared with ByteDance. Yet TikTok says
Chinese government officials have never asked it for information on U.S. users.
If Beijing did ever make such a request, TikTok's lawyers say it would be
The amount of
data TikTok mines from its mobile phone users is on par with what other apps
collect, including ones owned by Facebook and Google.