United States President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders addressing what he has labelled as the threat posed by apps such as TikTok and WeChat.
The president is calling the pair of Chinese apps a “national emergency” with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain.
According to the first order that will take effect in 45 days, any transaction with TikTok’s owner, ByteDance Ltd, or its subsidiaries, will be prohibited. The second order similarly prohibits any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings.
While TikTok has clocked over 175 million downloads in the US, around 800 million globally, WeChat has over 1.2 billion monthly active users.
In the orders, Trump says that apps developed in China continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.
“At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok,” he said.
“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 continues.
“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 espionage.”
The second order says that like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, similarly noting again the ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
“WeChat, like TikTok, also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive and may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party,” it adds.
“The United States must take aggressive action against the owner of WeChat to protect our national security.”
The orders come the same day of Facebook launching its own TikTok competitor through its wholly-owned picture-sharing app, Instagram.
Earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he has had a “good look” at TikTok and that there was no evidence to suggest the misuse of any people’s data.
“We have had a look, a good look at this, and there is no evidence for us to suggest, having done that, that there is any misuse of any people’s data that has occurred, at least from an Australian perspective, in relation to these applications,” he told the Aspen Security Forum.
“You know, there’s plenty of things that are on TikTok which are embarrassing enough in public. So that’s sort of a social media device.”
Morrison said the same issues are present with other social media companies, such as Facebook.
“Enormous amounts of information is being provided that goes back into systems. Now, it is true that with applications like TikTok, those data, that data, that information can be accessed at a sovereign state level. That is not the case in relation to the applications that are coming out of the United States. But I think people should understand and there’s a sort of a buyer beware process,” the prime minister added.
“There’s nothing at this point that would suggest to us that security interests have been compromised or Australian citizens have been compromised because of what’s happening with those applications.”
The orders follow Microsoft toying with the idea of buying TikTok.