Friday, 18 September 2020

USA! USA! USA!

 

TikTok to be banned from US app stores from Sunday

The Trump administration has ordered TikTok and WeChat to be removed from US app stores © FT montage; Getty Images

TikTok will be removed from US app stores from Sunday as Washington moves to implement executive orders from President Donald Trump that will also target WeChat, a Chinese social media app, according to a person briefed on the plans.

The US commerce department, which will issue the orders, stopped short of forcing Apple and Google to remove the Chinese versions of TikTok and WeChat from their app stores in China.

The imminent removals come as Oracle and ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, continue talks with the Trump administration over how to resolve its concerns over the video app. Any deal will also have to be approved by Beijing.

Oracle and ByteDance have submitted a proposal that would involve TikTok’s global business being spun out into a separate US company, with an all-American board and a security committee headed by a person with government security clearance. The new company would initially be majority owned by ByteDance, but would look to list publicly in the US.

Mr Trump has already raised concerns about the continuing Chinese ownership of the app, while several US senators have complained that the deal would allow ByteDance to retain control of the algorithm that selects which videos to show to each user.

The removal of TikTok and WeChat from US app stores implements the first two executive orders issued by Mr Trump, which said US companies would be barred from dealing with the apps from September 20. The president later issued a third order that gave ByteDance until November 12 to divest its interests in TikTok in the US.

One person familiar with the situation said existing users would be able to keep the apps on their phones for now. But he added that WeChat would quickly become unusable because software updates would not be available through the app stores.

People with TikTok on their phones will also be able to continue to use the app, but the person said that the experience would degrade over the next two months unless a deal was approved by Mr Trump.

The battle over TikTok is the latest example of the much tougher stance Mr Trump has taken against China in recent months. Some critics question why he is targeting an app such as TikTok that is largely used by teenagers, but experts said that the data the app gathers on its users threatened US security.

“Big data is the core of intelligence now,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is the most intense espionage campaign against the US since the Reagan administration. We are engaged in an intense espionage contest — a spy war — with China.”

Mr Trump last month said TikTok posed a security threat by “potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees . . . build dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage”.

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