President Trump’s executive orders that sought to ban Chinese social media platforms, appear to have been drop-kicked through the uprights.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday withdrew a series of Trump-era executive orders that sought to ban new downloads of WeChat and TikTok, and ordered a Commerce Department review of security concerns posed by those apps and others, major media outlets reported.
The administration of former President Donald Trump had attempted to block new users from downloading the apps and ban other technical transactions that Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat both said would effectively block the apps’ use in the US.
The courts blocked those orders, which never took effect, reports said.
A separate US national security review of TikTok launched in late 2019 remains active and ongoing, a White House official said, declining to offer any details.
The White House remains very concerned about the data risks of TikTok users, another administration official told reporters, so the apps are not out of hot water, quite yet.
After the government reviews each particular app, it can “take action, as appropriate,” the administration said in a fact sheet.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the orders.
A court filing said the Department of Commerce was reviewing whether Trump’s claims about TikTok’s threat to national security justified the attempts to ban it from smartphone app stores and deny it vital technical services, reports said.
An update to the review was due in a court case later this week.
The January order directed officials to ban transactions with eight Chinese apps including Ant Group’s Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s QQ Wallet and WeChat pay; no bans have been issued to date.
Both TikTok, which has over 100 million users in the United States, and WeChat have denied posing national security concerns.
For months, TikTok has been negotiating with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multi-agency national security panel, on ways it could secure the data of US users, reports said.
The order doesn’t target any companies specifically.
Instead, it directs the Commerce Department to evaluate all software applications with potential ties to foreign adversaries including China and take action to protect data on US citizens gathered by the apps.
Both TikTok and WeChat did not immediately comment.
Biden’s approach to TikTok is notably different from Trump’s, which was to try to ban the app first and deal with the details later.
But it’s still in line with Trump’s general policy of using sanctions to restrict the increasing power of Chinese technology firms in the US economy, reports said.
So although TikTok has been spared the looming threat of being kicked off the US internet in the short term, its business — along with other popular Chinese consumer apps like WeChat — is still under scrutiny in the long term.
In practical terms, Biden’s order means TikTok can keep operating in the US without the immediate threat of being shut down overnight, as Trump tried to do.
US WeChat users who sued the Trump administration applauded Biden’s move.
A ban “would have led to the unprecedented shutdown of a major platform for communications relied on by millions of people in the United States,” said Michael Bien, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.
Sources: Reuters, Al Jazeera, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, VOX.com