TikTok: Why Trump’s victory over Huawei could be bad news for the video app

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“We have convinced many countries, and I have done it myself for the most part, not to use Huawei because we think it is a security risk,” Trump said at a conference. press at the White House on Tuesday. Earlier today, the British government announced it was reversing the decision to allow Huawei to build parts of its new 5G mobile network. As part of the announcement, all of Huawei’s existing 5G equipment is to be ripped off – virtually eliminating the business from a large Western market.

The overthrow of the United Kingdom is at least a symbolic victory for a White House which has at times struggled to persuade its allies of the alleged security risks of using Chinese technology. And now it can embolden Trump as he questions whether to crack down on TikTok, an app that some policymakers say is a threat to national security, even though experts say there is little evidence concrete. (Trump’s pressure to ban TikTok would have a precedent; earlier this month, India said it would ban the app, among other things, after a bloody border clash involving Indian and Chinese forces.)

Huawei and TikTok operate in very different industries – one is a telecommunications company dealing with a complex global supply chain and the other is a social app popular with teenagers. But the telecommunications equipment maker’s experience with the Trump administration suggests what may be in store for social media enforcement – ranging from public criticism by government officials and further regulatory scrutiny to legislation. seeking to lock it from the US market, where consumers have downloaded TikTok more than 165 million times.

In a statement, TikTok’s chief public policy officer, Michael Beckerman, said there is currently a lot of “misinformation about TikTok”. The company “stores data from US users in Virginia, with a backup in Singapore, and we are working to minimize access between regions,” he said.. “We welcome conversations with legislators who want to understand our business”,

TikTok has taken care to distance itself from China by designating its recently hired US CEO and arguing that it stores data for American users on servers based in the United States. It also announced possible changes in its corporate structure that could further increase its independence from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it always denied that it poses a risk of spying. The company insisted on challenging any attempt by the Chinese government to acquire customer data.

The United States has taken numerous steps to freeze Huawei from the U.S. market. The State Department said on Wednesday that it is imposing visa restrictions on employees of some Chinese tech companies, including Huawei. Last year, the U.S. government placed Huawei on a Commerce Department watch list, preventing U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei without exception. It has banned federal agencies from using Huawei equipment, and the Federal Communications Commission has banned U.S. mobile operators from buying Huawei products or services using agency-linked funds. In addition, the United States has sued Huawei for alleged theft of trade secrets – accusations that Huawei has described as “unfounded and unjust”.

Compared to Huawei, TikTok may seem like a completely different operation. Most importantly, it does not have access to the critical infrastructure networks that are at the heart of national security, said James Lewis, cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But TikTok collects personal information about many Americans, data that lawmakers such as Sens say. Chuck Schumer, Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley could endanger national security if they find themselves in the hands of hostile foreign governments. With this in mind, policy makers like Hawley have proposed banning TikTok from US government devices.

While the US government would be well within its rights to define federal workplace policies regarding TikTok, it is less clear how it could force states or the private sector to follow suit – although it is not required to do. At least one company, Wells Fargo (WFC), has already told employees not to install TikTok on company devices.

Wells Fargo Asks Employees To Remove TikTok From Company Devices

To keep TikTok out of the tech giant’s app stores, Trump could seek to place TikTok on the same Commerce Department watchlist as he put Huawei on. However, Lewis said the move could be legally cloudy, as listed entities would generally have violated laws or rules relating to trade, arms control or theft of intellectual property. There is little evidence connecting TikTok to this type of driving.

It is not yet clear what the Trump administration might seek to do at TikTok, but there is clearly bipartisan hostility towards TikTok. This prompted TikTok to quickly expand its presence in Washington. Beckerman said the company is expanding its team in the region and creating so-called “transparency centers” in the nation’s capital and Los Angeles “so that legislators and guest experts can see for themselves how we moderate content and store the data of our users. secured. ”

However, when decision makers are generally on the same wavelength, very little can hinder them. This is a lesson that Huawei has learned, even though its business partners – ranging from the big and powerful to the small and rural – warned that it would be extremely expensive to tear off Huawei equipment.

What TikTok has that Huawei doesn’t have is a culturally important and politically active user base. But just because TikTok users seem to have successfully disrupted the Trump campaign rally, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the kind of influence that matters inside the White House.

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