Trump bans China spy apps WeChat and TikTok, China labels him ‘modern-day pirate’
President Donald Trump made good a longstanding pledge to ban Chinese social media apps that collect and forward information about people in the U.S. by signing an executive order that prohibits the two largest Chinese-owned social media apps, WeChat and TikTok, from doing business in the U.S.
The move comes after the Department of Defense (DOD), the Republican Party and the Democrat Party banned the TikTok app last year from official devices over spying concerns.
While TikTok is better known, WeChat is the largest social media app in the world, with well over a billion users. WeChat’s popularity is due to the fact that the popular social media apps used in other countries like Facebook, Twitter and a host of others, are banned in China.
Also buoying success for WeChat is that it is one of only a few methods of payment in China. In addition to acting as a messenger, WeChat is connected to Chinese bank accounts and used as the primary payment method in China for nearly everyone. Cash is rarely used and is actually discouraged.
It is that ubiquity of WeChat that has U.S. authorities concerned.
Last year, WeChat began mandatory facial recognition log-ons for users in China. Combined with financial information, geographic tracking information, and communications tracking, WeChat is the most powerful citizen management tool any government has every deployed against its citizens.
It’s widely acknowledged that both WeChat and TikTok, as well as all other Chinese companies, cooperate completely with data requests from the communist government’s state security apparatus.
In the case of WeChat, China employs a network of live censors and trackers who do nothing but watch WeChat traffic.
“It is owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd,” says The Hill, “a huge Chinese conglomerate that focuses mainly on social media, entertainment and e-commerce within Asia. It has invested heavily in tech and digital, ranging from Reddit, Snapchat, Spotify and Discord to Tesla, Uber, Universal Music and Lyft.”
And the NBA.
Tencent Holdings paid the NBA $1.5 billion in July of 2019 for the exclusive rights to stream NBA games in China, which goes a long way toward explaining why the NBA doesn’t want to criticize China’s government.
Tencent and TikTok have denied that they are part of Chinese state security, but the laws in China are clear: All companies are required to cooperate with the dreaded internal police force.
TikTok, a video making app, is very popular with teens worldwide, which has led some to be concerned that the app is being used to track personally identifiable bio-markers like facial recognition for kids and adults.
China has the most sophisticated facial recognition system in the world and can even recognize and track people wearing masks, a technology that was deployed to roundup citizens during the coronavirus lockdown.
“This past February, China introduced new facial recognition technology that can identify faces even when wearing a mask,” says The Center for Strategic and International Studies, “though with a slightly lower accuracy rate. This technology not only highlights China’s technological advances, but it also deepens Chinese citizens’ growing concerns over how the widespread use of facial recognition threatens their privacy.”
Previously the DOD had banned TikTok on department devices because of spying fears. The ban by the DOD and other agencies has previously enjoyed bipartisan support.
In fact, the Democrat and Republican parties in July reiterated warnings to their workers to delete TikTok from devices after warning employees in December to delete the apps.
“Campaign staff should refrain from using foreign-developed apps such as FaceApp and TikTok. If your staff has already downloaded and used either app, they should delete the app and suspend their accounts. If you are using TikTok for campaign work, we recommend using a separate phone and account,” said a Democrat memo shared with CNN.
State-controlled media in China has responded to the Trump ban by calling him a “modern-day pirate.”
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