Here’s what’s at stake:
WHAT ARE THESE COMPANIES?
TikTok, owned by ByteDance, is an increasingly popular video app with 100 million US users and hundreds of millions worldwide. It has a reputation for fun and wacky, full of people lip-syncing, dancing and pranking, and is exceptionally easy to use. Like other social media companies, she has raised concerns about the privacy of her users and how she moderates content. It created a culture of its own influence and nurtured musical successes; Facebook and Snapchat see it as a competitive threat.
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Tencent’s WeChat is an essential communication and payment service in China and with Chinese emigrants abroad, with 1.2 billion users worldwide. That doesn’t blow up US users, but mobile search company Sensor Tower estimates 19 million downloads in the US since 2014.
But Tencent is closely linked with other major American entertainment brands. He owns Riot Games, publisher of the hit video game League of Legends, and has a significant stake in Epic Games, the company behind the Fortnite video game phenomenon. It also has a streaming deal with the NBA.
WHAT DO ORDERS DO?
The first thing they did was sow fear, uncertainty and doubt.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this week that “we want to see untrusted Chinese apps removed from US app stores.” The vague wording of the orders, which ban “any transaction” under US jurisdiction with Tencent or ByteDance, could be interpreted as supporting an app store ban and other measures, experts said. It’s unclear how this would apply to Tencent’s other properties and partnerships.
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We will probably know more in 45 days.
WHY DOES TRUMP’S ADMINISTRATION STOP ON TIKTOK AND WECHAT?
It is motivated by concerns over the collection of U.S. user data and long-standing complaints about Chinese business tactics, according to two White House officials not authorized to speak publicly about private deliberations. Trump had long been targeting TikTok, but the decision against WeChat was an escalation.
But the picture is more complicated than that. Trump’s frustration with the coronavirus pandemic and China also motivated his actions, officials said. He blamed the outbreak on Beijing and questioned whether Chinese leaders had deliberately failed to contain it to spread the economic disaster to other countries. He also raged privately against China, accusing the country of damaging his chances of re-election and expressing no desire for a new trade deal.
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Trump ignored questions about reporters’ executive orders on the tarmac after disembarking ahead of a three-day weekend at his Bedminster club.
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ARE THE ORDERS LEGAL?
It would be difficult for the government to prevent people from using WeChat and TikTok – there are workarounds even if they are removed from app stores – and it is not clear that the president has a legal basis for doing so under the powers cited in the ordinances, experts said. Additionally, civil rights groups have said a ban raises concerns about the First Amendment.
“The selective ban of entire platforms undermines freedom of expression online and does nothing to address the larger problem of unwarranted government surveillance, including by our own government,” said Hina Shamsi, Director from the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, in an emailed statement.
TikTok has said it will “pursue all remedies” and suggested taking legal action to ensure that the company and its users are “treated fairly.”
SHOULD I REMOVE TIKTOK FROM MY CHILD’S PHONE?
Not as a result of the actions of the Trump administration, although you might want to take a closer look anyway.
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TikTok, like most other social networks, collects data about its users and moderates what is posted. It grabs where people are and what messages they’re sending to each other, for example, and tracks what people are watching so they know what types of videos they like and how to best target ads. US-based platforms do pretty much the same thing, so removing TikTok but leaving Snapchat, for example, won’t change much.
But the administration and some academics fear that China may force its companies to help the government gather intelligence. In TikTok’s case, this remains a hypothetical threat, said Samm Sacks, a researcher at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center – but she acknowledges it could happen.
TikTok says US user data is not stored in China and will not pass it on. But experts believe that if the Chinese government wants information, it will get it. The US government has also cracked down on Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE over the concern. The companies deny that they facilitate espionage.
There are also concerns about TikTok’s censorship of critical videos of China, which TikTok denies, and the propaganda. Advocates in the United States also claim the company is breaking laws to protect the privacy of children.
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WeChat, meanwhile, is censored in China. Internet monitoring group Citizen Lab in Toronto says WeChat monitors files and images shared abroad to facilitate its censorship in China.
IS THE ALLEGED CHINESE THREAD OF TIKTOK AND WECHAT UNIQUE?
China’s economic espionage is a well-known constant, and the Chinese military or related groups have been accused of massive hacking of sensitive information by the Equifax credit agency and the Federal Bureau of Justice. staff management.
The U.S. government has also raised concerns about user data about Huawei, a smartphone and networking equipment maker that is China’s top global tech brand. He decided to cut off access to chips and other technology for Huawei, banned the use of US government funds on its equipment, and urged its allies not to use them. The government has also blocked China from buying several American companies.
But several experts say the US government is going after Chinese tech companies without taking other important steps to protect Americans’ privacy.
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Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been embroiled in a tariff war with Beijing over its technological ambitions. And the politics of the election year in the United States may be raising the stakes. Trump appears to be using friction with China to garner voter support.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER?
The US government is effectively forcing ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, to sell in order to reclaim the app in the US, a huge and valuable market. TikTok is in talks with Microsoft, who have announced plans to complete talks by September 15.
CAN AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES BENEFIT FROM THE PRESSURE ON CHINESE APPLICATIONS?
Could be. Users can opt out of TikTok and focus more on Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, or other apps. Facebook rolled out a TikTok clone to its Instagram service this week – interesting timing.
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If Microsoft ended up buying all or part of TikTok, it would get a fast growing app with younger users, a whole new mainstream company. But some analysts are skeptical of what Microsoft can do with a product so different from its core business in the workplace.
And there is speculation that Facebook could point to a Microsoft purchase of TikTok to say that there is more competition on social media in the United States, relieving antitrust pressure on itself.
AP reporters Jonathan Lemire in Bridgewater, NJ, Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, Calif., Mae Anderson in New York, Frank Bajak in Boston, Joe McDonald in Beijing, and Zen Soo in Hong Kong contributed to this article.
© 2020 The Canadian Press