In the conflict over the video app, the US president issues an executive order to force its sale. Also affected is WeChat. TikTok is fighting back.
The US president maintains a long obsession with China Photo: ap
U.S. President Donald Trump is apparently seeking to force the sale of the popular Chinese video app’s U.S. business with a new executive order against Tiktok. With the order, which is set to take effect in 45 days, Trump is banning U.S. citizens from "doing business" with Bytedance, the app’s owner. The app poses a "threat" to national security, the order released Thursday evening (local time) said. The app collects large amounts of user data and could allow the Chinese Communist Party to spy on Americans, it said.
Trump had recently pushed hard for a sale of the app’s U.S. business to an American company. With the order, he seems to be forcing this: If the order is not yet declared invalid by a court, Tiktok should no longer be available in the US in 45 days. In addition, the president also took action against the Chinese app WeChat.
TikTok, in turn, wants to take action against the ban by the U.S. government. It is a matter of ensuring that users are treated fairly, "if not by the government, then by the US courts," the company, which belongs to the Chinese group ByteDance, announced on its website. At the same time, it said it was "shocked" by the order. The action marked a new level of escalation in the tense relations with China.
U.S. software giant Microsoft put itself in position to take over the video app’s U.S. business after massive political pressure from the White House. The company plans to negotiate a deal with the private Chinese owner by mid-September. Tiktok operations in Canada, Australia and New Zealand will also be part of the deal, Microsoft said in a blog post Monday night. No mention was made of Europe. Microsoft said it wants to ensure that all personal data of U.S. citizens would be transferred to the U.S. and collected only there.
The White House cited reports that the app had already been downloaded 175 million times in the US. Should a US company take over Tiktok’s local business, the app is likely to continue to have a future there, especially since the injunction was not directed against Tiktok per se, but against the Chinese owner.
Separation of business lines
The White House said Tiktok "automatically collects large amounts of data from its users," including geospatial data and search histories. That data could allow China to spy on or blackmail federal employees or service providers, it said.
Tiktok owner Bytedance has been trying for some time to separate its international platform from the Chinese version. Tiktok asserts China’s government does not have access to user data and has never requested it. U.S. users’ data is stored and processed in the U.S. anyway, it said. In China itself, there is only the censored version of the app, Douyin.
It is not yet clear how much Microsoft would have to pay for Tiktok. However, it is likely to be in the tens of billions. However, the White House order puts pressure on Bytedance. According to its own information, Tiktok has 100 million users in the U.S. and would therefore be an extremely attractive takeover target.
Microsoft could thus emerge from the political tussle over the app as the laughing third – the software group has not had its own social media business so far. Under the leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft has been successful not only in its core business, but also in its cloud offerings for companies. In the consumer business, the company is primarily known for its Xbox games console.
With the Tiktok deal, Microsoft would become a relevant competitor of Facebook in one fell swoop – but it would also create completely new problems for the company. Facebook has to undertake enormous and expensive efforts to filter hate messages, hate speech and other political content from the platform.
In another executive order, Trump also banned U.S. citizens from doing business with the Chinese social media app WeChat or its owners. The ban will also take effect in 45 days for national security reasons, the statement said. The order could lead to a ban on the app in the U.S. The app, operated by Tencent Holdings, is extremely popular in China – but arguably limited in the US. The app offers users the services of a social network, messenger services and a payment service.
Confrontation with China
Trump’s administration has long been taking action against Chinese telecom giant Huawei. Washington suspects the latter of being a gateway for Beijing’s spies. The U.S. government is trying hard to ensure that the manufacturer is also excluded from building the fast 5G mobile networks in friendly countries. The Chinese telecoms supplier ZTE had also fallen out of favor in Washington in the meantime.
After a long and intense trade war, China and the U.S. concluded a partial trade agreement in January. Since then, however, the relationship between the world’s largest and second-largest economies has deteriorated rapidly. The coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China, is primarily to blame. Trump blames China for the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. For Trump, who is running for a second term in November, the crisis comes at an inopportune time.