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President Trump Signs Executive Orders Targeting TikTok, WeChat

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is issuing executive orders against two China-based apps, TikTok and the messaging app WeChat. The orders take effect in 45 days, effectively banning their use in the United States. James Griffiths is based in Hong Kong for CNN. He is the author of "The Great Firewall Of China: How To Build And Control An Alternative Version Of The Internet." He joined me on Skype.

Hi, James. Thanks for being here.

JAMES GRIFFITHS: Hi. Happy to be with you.

GREENE: So how are these orders from the president last night being viewed in China at this point?

GRIFFITHS: Well, Beijing is not happy - a sad Friday afternoon here in Beijing - but it firmly opposes the Trump administration's orders and also accused Washington of using national security as an excuse. But, you know, this is fairly ironic rhetoric coming from China, given that these are pretty much the same justifications that it uses for a lot of its own controls on the Internet.

GREENE: Well, using national security as an excuse - I mean, President Trump making the argument that these apps are a national security risk - I mean, what, if any, evidence exists of that?

GRIFFITHS: Well, there does seem to be some evidence that both of these apps gather a lot and lot of data on users - you know, not necessarily any more than other social media apps on peoples' phones gather, but that is a lot of data - I think probably more than most users would realize - is being scraped up on them. And then the argument is that as a Chinese company, there are obligations under Chinese law. And also, there is a kind of extralegal obligations - you know, pressure that Beijing can bring on these companies if it wants access to that data.

And so Washington has argued that given that these companies have all this data, and China can in theory access it, that might present a national security risk if users such as, you know, government employees or families of government employees are using these apps.

GREENE: So I just think, I mean, about WeChat as an example. I mean, you have people - users in the United States. You have U.S. citizens in China using WeChat. The executive order from the president - I mean, it's really vague, right? Do we know what the impact will be on people who use it?

GRIFFITHS: Yeah, it is very vague. And I think we've already seen quite a lot of concern online - you know, especially from people within the Chinese diaspora in the U.S., a lot of whom use WeChat to talk to their parents or family back home. You know, this could cut off WeChat from users in the States, and that would essentially mean that they can't talk to family back in China because, of course, Beijing, for its part, through the Great Firewall blocks pretty much every other messaging app. And so, you know, were WeChat to be cut off from the U.S., that could have major ramifications.

And then for Americans in China, that could also have major repercussions because WeChat is - far more so than any apps we use in the English-speaking world, WeChat is, you know, a super app. It's what people use to pay for things, do mobile payments. It's what - how people book taxis. It's - you know, it's a million apps in one.

And so if Americans are prevented from using this or prevented from paying it or using U.S. bank accounts to connect to it, that could really impact how they - you know, how they just live their lives in China. And then also for U.S. companies in China - that they may find themselves in a bind because many use WeChat for sales and customer service.

GREENE: Could there be a positive here, though, if this forces a lot of those users to turn to apps that might be more secure?

GRIFFITHS: Certainly, one potential silver lining of this is that, you know, these apps - the complaints about them are quite real. The concerns about data gathering, the concerns about potential censorship on WeChat - those are legitimate. And if it forces these apps to address them, and if it also acts as a wake-up call for the rest of Silicon Valley to behave better when it comes to data collection, that could be a really positive development for users.

GREENE: James Griffiths with CNN in Hong Kong.

James, thanks a lot.

GRIFFITHS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.