You probably noticed a lot of news about TikTok and WeChat in the news recently. This TikTok and WeChat explainer provides a quick overview of what this is all about as well as some considerations as you watch this issue unfold.

What is TikTok

  • TikTok is a popular viral video sharing platform in the US. The popularity of the app exploded in the US during the pandemic lockdowns. Many government officials and Senators warned of the intelligence vulnerability which the app posed to American users.

What is WeChat

  • WeChat is the premier digital connector among the vast Chinese population. The Chinese use WeChat for chat, payments, and news. The Chinese government also uses it for propaganda and surveillance.

TikTok has 50 million active US users. WeChat has 3.5 million active US users.  

Basic Facts

  • On August 6, President Trump issued an executive order stating WeChat and TikTok collected data from US users that could be used by the Chinese government. The executive order alluded to a pending ban on the apps and their services in the US but did not include specifics about the ban or a timeline.
    • From the August Executive Order: 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. 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 corporate espionage.
  • On Friday, September 18, the Commerce Department said it would prohibit downloads of WeChat and TikTok in the US effective September 20.
  • The move did not affect users who already downloaded the apps before September 20, but they would be unable to access upgrades (which occur routinely) as long as the ban remained.
  • The Commerce Department said they planned to pursue a full bank on TikTok after the November 3, US elections.
  • The bans could be lifted if national security concerns were resolved. The easiest way to do this was to acquire the apps and their US operations by a US-based company.
  • TikTok is trying to reach a deal with Oracle and Walmart to avoid a permanent US ban in November. The potential deal with Oracle and Walmart earned TikTok an extension on the ban. Oracle and Walmart plan to purchase a 20% stake in TikTok. Walmart will handle merchandising in this deal.
  • A US Federal District Court Judge placed a stay on the WeChat ban on September 20. A lawsuit alleged the ban on WeChat infringed free speech by WeChat users.

Considerations

  • In China, citizens cannot use popular US social media apps used in other places around the world. These include Facebook, Google, and WhatsApp.
  • While multiple parties in the government state these Chinese based apps pose a national security threat to Americans, no official source has presented evidence of this threat.
  • The media has taken a contrarian position on President Trump’s executive order and targeting of TikTok and WeChat, suggesting the suggested threat is unfounded. Meanwhile, there is a frequent concern of the privacy issues which companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, pose to Americans presented within the media. The double standard doesn’t make sense.
  • If the Oracle deal resolves the situation with TikTok, a significant gap remains. So far, no information has been presented explaining how the deal would prevent China, which would still own 80% of the company, from continuing its access to American’s data.

Additional Reading