President Joe Biden is reducing some uncertainty faced by Chinese tech companies in the United States, erasing parts of the Trump-era legacy. The president signed an executive order revoking actions targeting TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese apps put forward by former President Donald Trump, according to a statement released by the White House on Wednesday.
Instead, President Biden signed a new order requiring the Commerce Department to review apps with ties to “jurisdiction of foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks.
The Biden order withdraws two orders by former President Trump, one of which was issued in August and sought to block U.S. business transactions with TikTok and WeChat. The other, announced in January, targeted eight Chinese services including WeChat’s payment feature, Tencent’s QQ messenger, and Ant Group’s Alipay wallet.
The orders to ban TikTok and WeChat in the U.S. had been blocked by federal court jurisdictions. Separately, the Trump administration’s attempt to force a sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations was also shelved.
The “increased use in the United States of certain connected software applications designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned or controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of, a foreign adversary,” which the Secretary of Commerce has defined to include China among others, “continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
Scrutiny over Chinese tech firms will most likely remain a high priority for U.S. regulators, but policies may be more methodical under the presidency of Joe Biden. Chinese companies coveting the U.S. market will have to be better prepared for data compliance challenges.
The order directs the secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the secretary of State, the secretary of Defense, the attorney general, the secretary of Health and Human Services, the secretary of Homeland Security, the director of National Intelligence, and the heads of other agencies as the secretary of Commerce deems appropriate, to recommend actions to protect Americans’ data on platforms owned or controlled by a “foreign adversary” within 120 days.
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 U.S. nationals, Anne Neuberger, NSA’s director of cybersecurity, told TechCrunch at Disrupt 2020. She said there were “greater concerns on how [China] in particular could use all that information collected against populations other than its own.”
Chinese tech firms have produced a raft of top-ranking apps in the U.S. TikTok, which has been working to make Singapore its beachhead following the U.S. government’s attempted ban, came in second among the free apps on the U.S. App Store as of writing. CapCut, a video-editing app also owned by ByteDance app, has seen a surge in downloads in the U.S. recently. Mobile games from Tencent and smaller studios continue to rack up big bucks in the U.S., and fast-fashion shopping app Shein is outpacing Amazon’s growth in the country.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, Tencent and ByteDance could not be immediately reached for comment.
Updated the story with more information on the revocation.