Every Friday, Law Decoded delivers analysis on the week’s critical stories in the realms of policy, regulation and law.
The U.S.–China trade war continues its brazen spillover into tech. In response to concerns over where data from TikTok and WeChat was going, President Trump sent out twin executive orders banning both applications last night.
The new action is distinct from, for example, squeezing Huawei out. Huawei’s hardware is tied up in international supply chain and military networks, forming a more obvious security risk. TikTok and WeChat are consumer apps, more occupied with viral dance videos than top secret intelligence.
More obviously salacious is the prospect that Microsoft may end up buying TikTok at what you could generously call the wholesale rate, provided it pays the government what you could cynically call its cut for muscling out a competitor.
Social media has been a critical political arena for a long time, even before earlier administration attacks on home-grown social media like Facebook and Twitter. Regarding TikTok and WeChat, their data-gathering practices are genuinely cause for concern, but these executive orders don’t read like good-faith efforts to protect citizens.
Broadly, we are witnessing tech become a place for nations to duke it out — not for the first time, but tech’s heavy hitters of the 21st century have until recently portrayed themselves as more utopian and international. Something Gene Roddenberry would’ve thought up. Which is a vision that still reigns in conversations about, say, Bitcoin. But as various government agencies take pains to onboard blockchain, and as the Space Force steals the logo of the Federation, it is an open question of how this all plays out.