RIP, TikTok and WeChat bans: President Joe Biden officially axed Trump-era efforts to keep them away from American consumers with an executive order signed on Wednesday.
Citing national security concerns, the previous administration took aim at Chinese-owned apps, such as TikTok, WeChat and Alipay. Several Trump-issued executive orders sought to bar them operating in the U.S., including an effort to eject them from mobile app stores.
The new directive effectively reverses those actions, unsealing these developers’ fates in the U.S., at least for the time being. But it doesn’t completely let TikTok or the others off the hook.
The latest order didn’t specifically clamp down on actions taken by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which set out various deadlines under a pressure campaign to force TikTok’s owner, Beijing-based ByteDance, to divest from the app. The move triggered court battles, as well as a bid by Oracle and Walmart to take a controlling interest in the business last year. Chatter about the acquisition went silent, suggesting the dealmaking lost momentum with the change in administration.
TikTok declined a WWD request for comment, but it’s rather likely that the developer is breathing a sigh of relief right now. But for how long is anyone’s guess, because Biden isn’t actually backing off in the face of China or other adversaries.
The plan now is for the Commerce Department under Secretary Gina Raimondo to investigate platforms and developers connected to foreign adversaries for any consumer data privacy or national security risks they may pose to the U.S. Biden wants the department to work with others to draft new guidelines and recommendations that would inform future policy, legislation and executive orders.
In statements to the press, a White House official explained that “the administration is committed to promoting an open, interoperable, reliable and secure internet and to protecting human rights online and offline, and to supporting a vibrant global digital economy.
“The challenge that we’re addressing with this E.O. is that certain countries, including China, do not share these commitments or values and are instead working to leverage digital technologies and American data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks,” the official said.
The new approach would set out a more considered framework to assess the risks, as opposed to blasting out knee-jerk reactions on the fly. And although it may take longer to codify such efforts, doing so makes any measures harder to reverse.
China has become an increasingly important issue for the Biden administration. Days ago, it broadened prohibitions that began under Trump that would block U.S. investment in Chinese companies linked to military or surveillance tech, like that used against Muslim minority Uyghurs and other dissidents. Meanwhile, the White House is also keenly aware that China casts a large shadow on the commerce and global tech competition front, and it wants to ensure that the U.S. remains competitive.
That won’t necessarily put a kink in immediate growth plans for, say, TikTok or the ambitious initiatives it pursues in areas like shopping. But as an area of investment that would dramatically accelerate the amount of consumer data and number of transactions the developer has with the American public and brands, it’s not entirely clear what the future may hold.