Trump signs order against TikTok and WeChat

Front of the White House at night

TikTok has been officially banned by the US government, after US President Donald Trump signed two executive orders against Chinese apps amid concerns about security, government interference, and a growing trade war.

The orders banning all transactions with the apps will come into effect in 45 days, giving Microsoft a short window in which to buy TikTok from its Chinese owner, ByteDance, which has valued the app at $50bn. The second order targets Tencent's WeChat, a messaging and payments app that's popular in China.

To date, Trump's ire has been directed at TikTok, but the executive order said the threat posed by WeChat was similar, saying the Chinese government could use the app to monitor Chinese nationals visiting the US, pointing to an incident in 2019 when a researcher spotted a leaked database of billions of WeChat messages from around the world. "The United States must take aggressive action against the owner of WeChat to protect our national security," the order reads.

Tencent said it was "reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding," according to Reuters. The company's shares fell 10% in Hong Kong after the news was revealed.

The order against TikTok says the video clip app threatens national security via the information it collects on users, saying the "risks are real". TikTok said it was "shocked" by the order, according to the BBC, and would "pursue all remedies available," suggesting legal action may ensue.

"TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories," the order signed by Trump reads. "This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage."

TikTok has repeatedly said it does not share user information with the Chinese government.

The order also accuses TikTok of censoring politically sensitive material, specifically around the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Muslim Uyghur population, and of spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, it was accused of censoring videos about Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence, and more recently the app was said to be suppressing posts about Black Lives Matter, though the company claimed that was a technical glitch. Ironically, Twitter and Facebook this week removed posts of a video shared by Trump that incorrectly claimed children are "almost immune" from COVID.

Though expected, the move will further worsen the relationship between the US and China. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters: "The US is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice. China is firmly opposed to that." A wide range of American-made apps, such as WhatsApp and Instagram, have long been banned in China.