Trump orders to ban TikTok, WeChat axed

·2-min read

US President Joe Biden has withdrawn a series of Trump-era executive orders that sought to ban new downloads of WeChat and TikTok, and ordered a Commerce Department review of security concerns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.

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 short video-sharing app TikTok and WeChat both said would effectively block the apps' use in the United States.

The courts blocked those orders, which never took effect.

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.

The Biden order directs the Commerce Department to monitor software applications like TikTok that could affect US national security, as well as to make recommendations within 120 days to protect US data acquired or accessible by companies controlled by foreign adversaries.

TikTok declined to comment. WeChat did not immediately comment.

"This is a positive step in the right direction," said Gao Feng, spokesperson at the Chinese commerce ministry, at a regular press conference on Thursday.

Gao said China had noticed the United States required a new security review of the apps, and hoped "the US will treat Chinese companies fairly and avoid politicising economic and trade issues".

WeChat, which has been downloaded at least 19 million times by US users, is widely used as a medium for services, games and payments.

Biden's new executive order revokes the WeChat and TikTok orders Trump issued in August, along with another in January that targeted eight other communications and financial technology software applications.

The January Trump 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.

The Trump administration contended that WeChat and TikTok posed national security concerns because sensitive personal data of US users could be collected by China's government.

Both TikTok, which has more than 100 million users in the United States, and WeChat have denied posing national security concerns.

In February, Reuters reported corporate sponsors raced back to TikTok after some had paused or delayed efforts following Trump's August announcement. General Motors' flagship Chevrolet brand began advertising on TikTok in February through its own channel.

The Trump administration had appealed judicial orders blocking the bans on TikTok and WeChat, but after Biden took office in January, the US Justice Department asked to pause the appeals.

A spokesman for the US Department of Justice declined to comment. Status reports are due in the appeals cases on Friday.

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