As if 2020 couldn't get any worse, Donald Trump robbed us of the last happy place on the internet: TikTok.

Maybe. The President on Thursday issued a late-night executive order This prevents people and companies from doing business with ByteDance, the Chinese company that TikTok owns. It's not 100% clear what this means, but it probably means that Apple and Google will have to pull the app from their respective app stores.

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A cloud of confusion has enveloped TikTok in the past week. It's probably part of a Chinese spy network, the White House says. To operate in the United States, it has to be bought by a "very American" company within 45 days. says the president. This company could be Microsoft, but so could it might not.

TikTok has long been investigated for suspicious user data collection and connections to the Chinese Communist Party. Not surprisingly, the United States would eventually threaten to blacklist the app. Just like India in June and just like the US did with the Chinese giant Huawei.

However, if you downsize TikTok's review, one thing becomes clear: the potential TikTok ban doesn't really affect TikTok.

Trump, a well-known deal enthusiast, said Monday that TikTok had 45 days to make a deal with a U.S. company or other company. However, the previous 45 days of unusually tense American-Chinese relations show that TikTok is really just a pawn in a bigger, more dangerous game.

On June 17, Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Law, a law that punishes China's ill-treatment of Uyghur Muslims, who are estimated to have more than one million detained in "professional" labor camps. The law resulted in the Trump administration sanctioning several Chinese officials on July 9, including for the first time since 1979 a member of the China Elite Politburo Committee. The United States declared China's expansion in the South China Sea illegal on July 13, and Hong Kong was no longer recognized as an autonomous region the following day. July ended with the US closing of the Chinese embassy in Houston, causing China to fight back by closing the US embassy in Chengdu.

The executive ordinance that blacklisted ByteDance – or at least the government’s decision to tackle TikTok now – appears to be more due to escalating measures against China than to the impact on TikTok’s national security. TikTok was not the only Chinese company punished by executive order on Thursday because WeChat, a hugely popular TenCent messaging app, was subject to the same decree.

Now let's look at 2018, also known as The Before Time. Before the trade war, it was found that the Chinese company ZTE sold devices to Iran and violated U.S. sanctions. The company should have been blacklisted. Instead, Trump is trying to promote China to a cheap trade deal. gave the company a passport. (ZTE has since joined Huawei classified as a national security threat.)

Trump's action against TikTok is not unfounded. There are reasons for concern about the app, which the White House estimates have downloaded from 175 million users in the United States. It collects enough personal information for governments around the world to raise suspicions, and a Chinese intelligence law passed in 2017 appears to force companies like ByteDance to comply with all data access requests that the ruling Communist Party could make on behalf of national security.

As for this particular arrangement, TikTok's biggest problem seems to be being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

TikTok will indeed make your day, but it can have serious security issues.

Bloomberg / Getty

The elector comes

Should Microsoft buy TikTok, it is unclear how the deal would actually work. Microsoft would buy that Companies in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and AustraliaWould this mean that data about TikTok users in Europe and the Middle East will continue to be stored on ByteDance's servers? Trump hinted that the Treasury would receive a finder fee to enable the deal, the legality and morality of which was questioned.

However, one thing is certain: China's government is not happy.

"The US government will not abandon TikTok," said the headline in a Monday editorial by China Daily, a state-controlled publication that is considered the mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

"Washington is aware that Beijing will be cautious about retaliatory measures," added the story, adding that job losses in the United States are likely due to Chinese companies withdrawing money from the United States. "China will never accept the theft of a Chinese technology company, and there are many ways to respond if the government does its planned smash and grab."


Generation China is a CNET series that deals with the technical areas in which the country wants to take the lead.

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Trump's threat to ban TikTok has been mixed on Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent. Some noted that China, which has banned Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter, has been unable to instruct the United States on the matter. But there are a significant number of comments that rightly view the move as hypocritical and unfair.

"A free market economy?" one quips: "Time to revise western economic textbooks."

Tensions are likely to increase further. Given the upcoming presidential election, Trump's claim that he is tough on China appears to be an integral part of his campaign. Just before election day and when China's retaliation inevitably escalates, more technology companies, including those of TenCent, could get into the President's crosshairs.

There are precedents for this. When India banned TikTok in June Following a clash between Indian and Chinese troops on the Himalayan border, consideration was also given to cleaning up more apps made in China, including games from TenCent. If Trump jumped into this rabbit hole, it would no longer mean PUBG or League of Legends for US players. Zoom, founded by a Chinese billionaire, has already anticipated the heat: on Monday, no more sales were made to customers in China.

It looks like there is a real possibility that TikTok won't be on our phones on September 16th. But many other apps could be missing until election day. And if the US relationship with China continues to develop, it could be the least of our problems.


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