Trump Administration announced to ban Tencent owned WeChat mobile application from the US app stores in 45 days on August 6, 2020. Notably, with over a billion active monthly users, WeChat is the major messaging platform for the Chinese people to connect with their friends and families. Chinese Government has already banned Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp in the country.
US government has cited several security reasons and privacy concerns with the app for the ban. However, the ban isn’t just limited to WeChat app but the potential ban has been announced on all US transactions with its parent firm Tencent Holdings Ltd. It is also worth noting that Tencent Holdings is currently the largest Asian company in terms of Market Cap. Its CEO Ma Huateng, popularly known as Pony Ma also replaced Jack Ma as China’s richest person earlier this year. Furthermore,the ban will also be imposing restrictions on another leading Chinese firm, Bytedance which also owns the popular short video platform TikTok.
The United States government has said that it wants to remove untrusted Chinese apps to be removed from US app stores. A recent executive order by the US government read, “Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”
The order further noted that the two apps will be banned from operating in the country in the upcoming 45 days if they are not sold by their parent companies. United States has alleged that the two apps capture personal data of Chinese nationals visiting the United States. Thus, it allows theruling Chinese Communist Party a mechanism to keep tabs on Chinese citizens even as they travel to other countries.
Furthermore, the app has also been earlier accused of censoring content on various issues related to China on the platform including the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also accused of disabling certain accounts and censoring messages during the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
What Makes WeChat Case Similar to Facebook? What makes the two different?
The US government’s decision does seem like a genuine effort in the direction of protecting privacy of its US nationals on hearing these allegations. But, there is another well-known firm in the tech industry that quickly comes to our mind as we discuss data breach allegations; Facebook. In the recent years, Facebook has equally been facing accusations and charges (if not more) for allegedly collecting personal data from its users and breaching user privacy protocols.
The company has also been facing serious allegations for its role in the US Presidential elections in the year 2016. Facebook had first raised concerns in the international community overits data collection methods and usage after its2018 Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data leaks. The company has already come under scrutiny in various countries along with other US tech giants too in several instances.
More recently, the leading tech giant has also been sued by an Australian privacy watchdog in the Federal Court for allegedly sharing personal data of over 3 lakh Australian users. The lawsuit application suggested that the alleged data breach took place after the data of users was extracted by a personality quiz app called ‘This is your Digital Life’.Consequently, the data was allegedly leaked to Cambridge Analytica.
Thus, it just raise a shadow of doubt as the Trump administration threatens the Chinese messaging platform with a potential ban while Facebook seems to have got scot-free. Furthermore, the latest executive order following the earlier Google Huawei ban is expected to further worsen the situation for tech firms in both US and China and the trade relations between the two countries.
Several industry experts have also warned the US administration of potential retaliation from its Chinese counterparts. It won’t be surprising if see similar restrictions and bans the leading US tech giants in China. The US ban is expected to lead to several tech giants including Apple and Facebook to face further restrictions in the Asian country leading to significant revenue losses.
Thus, further updates from Washington and Beijing in the coming weeks would be critical to the tech industry. Do share your thoughts on the on-going US-China trade rivalry in the comments below.