The WeChat and TikTok Ban – a Fight for Privacy and Politics

Courtesy of Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Written by Zachary Xue

U.S firms are under immense pressure to deliver better privacy protections for its citizens, such as actions in reducing hate speech and combating misinformation. Especially in forms like deep fakes which were ever-present in environments such as the 2016 US Presidential Election; now four years later, these issues are going to become more and more pronounced.

But, more importantly, the average consumer is more likely to be concerned about data privacy issues in apps such as TikTok and WeChat. Because of the prevalence of TikTok’s algorithm, it’s possible for user data to be spread extremely quickly through the For You page. This segment of the application allows users to watch content from creators that they don’t follow, allowing virality to be achieved fairly easily. In the past, TikTok has suffered from investigations under the US Department of Justice for failing to remove content from users that were under 13 years of age. Additionally, TikTok’s abundant reserve of user metadata stores information on phone numbers, location, and usernames. This data can be sold or given to law enforcement agencies if compelled to do so. Furthermore, China has a complicated history of attempting to access Americans’ identities for those who potentially had access to sensitive government information. This was especially prevalent in cases such as the hacking of the US Office of Personnel Management and Equifax.

Recently, President Trump issued an executive order to ban Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat from the US consumer hemisphere, unless they are sold by their parent companies to existing US providers. Currently, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, has issued a potential deal with Oracle and Walmart to own 20% of the company’s shares. However, both ByteDance and Oracle want different things out of the agreement. Still, this deal has the possibility to not go through because of China’s unwillingness to infringe on their country’s ideals of national security. 

This ban is just a smaller part of the larger whole that is US/China relations. In essence, this ban on popular Chinese media apps poses a threat to America’s future reliance on Chinese products and services, and vice versa. In the future, we could be seeing a fundamental reduction in American reliance on Chinese manufacturers. These restrictions on the manufacturing process would severely inhibit trade as well as to drastically increase prices that both US consumers and companies would have to pay. 

Not only would there be potential outcry from consumers about heftier prices from Chinese imports, there would also be backlash on a political level as well. As with the recent outbreak of the coronavirus and subsequent global pandemic, there’s been a societal push for nationwide independence and self-sufficiency. On this front, it’s clearer than ever that cracks are emerging within the facade of US/China relations. 

However, this ban will fundamentally dent China’s ambitions in achieving a larger user base, and with the US being such a huge market for them, this will result in a huge financial and economic loss. For the contemporary technology industry to continue to grow and innovate, it’s imperative that global superpowers resolve conflicts wherever they can.

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