Tuesday, 28 September, 2021

Biden revokes TikTok, WeChat bans and orders security review

CHINA-US-POLITICS-TIKTOK-ORACLE TikTok and WeChat ban revoked, new federal app review process ordered
Adrian Cunningham | 09 June, 2021, 22:23

A new executive order directs the Commerce Department to undertake what officials describe as an "evidence-based" analysis of transactions involving apps that are manufactured or supplied or controlled by China. Officials are particularly concerned about apps that collect users' personal data or have connections to Chinese military or intelligence activities.

The new administration's framework to evaluate apps will be flexible, allowing it to take a tailored approach that addresses the specific risks of each company, one United States official said.

Biden signed the executive order on Wednesday.

It's no secret that American tech companies like Facebook and Google also collect large amounts of user data, but the "scope and scale" of TikTok's app's data collection makes it easier for Chinese spies to answer "all kinds of different intelligence questions" on US nationals, Anne Neuberger, NSA's director of cybersecurity, told TechCrunch at Disrupt 2020.

TikTok did not offer comment on the news.

There is widespread concern that America's foreign adversaries are using social media apps to collect data on American citizens. Courts temporarily blocked the White House's attempted ban, and the presidential election soon overshadowed the TikTok fight.

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) framed the White House action as a retreat, however, tweeting Wednesday: "This is a major mistake - shows alarming complacency regarding #China's access to Americans' personal information, as well as #China's growing corporate influence".

The announcement highlights how the Biden administration shares numerous same national security concerns as the Trump administration regarding Chinese-made mobile apps, even as Biden withdraws the specific orders targeting individual companies. Tuesday the Senate approved a $250 billion bill boosting government spending on technology research and development amid rising competition from China and other nations.

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.

The goal of collecting biometric data on TikTok is for enabling "special video effects, for content moderation, for demographic classification, for content and ad recommendations, and for other non-personally-identifying operations", the policies state.

The U.S. also is working on supply-chain issues meant to lessen the dependence on China. The Trump administration also attempted to prevent those apps from operating within the United States, but ongoing court challenges prevented most of those orders from going into effect, the Verge reported.

The Trump administration order that impacted TikTok and ByteDance, which has also contributed funds to Facebook "fact-checking" website LeadStores, prohibited "any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd", among other restrictions. It added that TikTok's service did not contact any servers within China, but it was still theoretically possible that servers outside China could later transfer user data to China-based servers.