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President Trump moves forward with bans on Chinese apps WeChat, TikTok

President Donald Trump said that the U.S will begin blocking downloads of the Chinese-made apps WeChat and TikTok starting Sunday, a decision that was pending the outcome of a deal between American suitors and the Chinese owners of the apps. So far those talks have been unsuccessful.

“The bans, announced on Friday, affect only new downloads and updates and are less sweeping than expected, particularly for TikTok,” says Reuters, “giving its parent group ByteDance some breathing space to clinch an agreement over the fate of its U.S. operations.”

“WeChat, an all-in-one messaging, social media and electronic payment app, faces more severe restrictions from Sunday. Existing TikTok users, on the other hand, will see little change until Nov. 12 when a ban on some technical transactions will kick in, affecting its functionality.”

The order will not prevent American individuals and American companies from using the apps overseas, which is a concern for some that use it to facilitate payments.

WeChat is the number one downloaded app in the world, thanks to China’s 1.7 billion population that needs the app to pay for everything from rent to groceries to entertainment.

The move comes amidst worries that the apps are threats to national security and help promote identity theft and invade privacy.

It was revealed earlier this week that a tech company with ties to China’s military had gathered data on 40,000 prominent Britons, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his immediate family.  

“Files on senior British politicians including the Prime Minister, members of the Royal Family, UK military officers and their families, and religious leaders are currently being stored by Zhenhua Data, a technology company based in Shenzhen, China as part of a ‘global mass surveillance system on an unprecedented scale,’” says the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

The U.S. intelligence community has long accused Beijing of using social media apps for state surveillance purposes.

“The names, dates of birth, educational and professional histories, criminal records and social media accounts of politicians, Royals, business people, academics, military officers, and civilians convicted of drug and terror offences are being harvested by Zhenhua for the reported benefit of the Chinese Communist Party,” says the British tabloid.

WeChat and TikTok are particularly well poised to help gather data as WeChat uses state-controlled facial recognition technology to match users with a central database maintained by the government and supplemented by security cameras throughout China. TikTok, as a mobile video app, also feeds facial data about users. At least theoretically, China could use cameras in any country to monitor the movements of users in real-time and match them with other databases such as the one maintained by Zhenhua.

“Commerce Department officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps’ data collection poses. China and the companies have denied U.S. user data is collected for spying,” says Reuters.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a written statement that “we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”

PHOTO: JAY L. CLENDENIN / LOS ANGELES TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES

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