Biden drops plan to ban TikTok, WeChat: White House

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The order Wednesday doesn't target any companies specifically. Instead, it directs the Commerce Department to evaluate all software applications with potential ties to foreign adversaries including China and take action to protect data on US citizens gathered by the apps.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday revoked the Trump administration's bans on TikTok and WeChat. The White House remains very concerned about the data risks of TikTok users, another administration official told reporters.

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.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) framed the White House action as a retreat, however, tweeting Wednesday: "This is a major mistake - shows alarming complacency regarding #China's access to Americans' personal information, as well as #China's growing corporate influence".

The January order directed officials to ban transactions with eight Chinese apps including Ant Group's Alipay and Tencent Holdings Ltd's QQ Wallet and WeChat pay.

The new orders require the Department of Commerce to "evaluate foreign adversary connected software applications" under a new framework for identifying which foreign apps might pose security or data collection risks. The data includes personally identifiable information and genetic information that would go to people directly linked to foreign adversaries, including China, according to a White House fact sheet. For example, Chinese-owned TikTok quietly updated its privacy policy last week to enable the app to collect users' biometric data, including faceprints and voiceprints. Those companies have disputed those contentions. Last year, the Trump administration sought to force ByteDance to spin off TikTok into a new company owned primarily by U.S. investors. The court had determined the ban was "arbitrary and capricious" because the Trump administration failed "to adequately consider an obvious and reasonable alternative before banning TikTok".

A separate United States national security review of TikTok launched in late 2019 remains ongoing, a White House official said, declining to offer any details.

The action is the latest sign of the Biden administration's emerging China policy, which represents a tougher approach acknowledging Beijing's economic and geopolitical strength. Yet TikTok says Chinese government officials have never asked it for information on U.S. users. Numerous newly targeted companies are subsidiaries and affiliates of major state-owned companies and other businesses named on the earlier blacklist. CFIUS had set deadlines for TikTok to divest its US operations, but such a sale never happened.

Mr. Biden departed Wednesday for his first overseas trip as president and will meet with European and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders as well as hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Part of his aim, officials said, will be to rally allies into taking on Beijing. The courts blocked those orders, which never took effect.

The new order also calls for a security review of the apps.

The administration earlier this year had backed off President Donald Trump's attempts to ban the popular video app TikTok, asking a court to postpone a legal dispute as the government began a broader review of the national security threats posed by Chinese technology companies.