President Biden signed an executive order today revoking the previous administration’s bans on TikTok and WeChat.
The social media platforms aren’t out of hot water yet, though: Biden replaced the ban with his own legislation aimed at regulating Americans’ personal data.
It’s a sign that both administrations share a similar suspicion of other countries’ access to citizens’ data, even if they voice it in different ways.
Biden officially revoked previous orders in the process of issuing his new executive order. Under this order, the Commerce Department must develop criteria for assessing the risks posed by apps owned by other countries.
Specifically, they will look at the national security risks tied to apps “owned, controlled, or managed by persons that support foreign adversary military or intelligence activities, or are involved in malicious cyber activities, or involve applications that collect sensitive personal data.”
In other words, the Biden administration is just as guarded as the Trump administration was in regards to data privacy regulation for non-US-based social platforms. They’re just taking a more methodical approach to saying so.
Previous Regulations Were Confusing
A slew of earlier executive orders centered on both TikTok and WeChat from President Trump drew headlines across 2020, and were quickly challenged in federal court for their general incoherence:
“It’s a bit of a troll to the Trump administration approach,” attorney Brian J. Fleming told the New York Times while discussing the new executive order, “which was exposed in court as being a bit of a hollow process that was completely outcome driven.”
Also that year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) set multiple deadlines for TikTok to divest from its owner ByteDance. While TikTok did set up a potential deal with Oracle and Walmart in response, it hasn’t gone through. Biden’s new executive order doesn’t directly impact the CFIUS, so this matter is still a little muddy even now.
In contrast, India’s TikTok ban has stuck around since it was first announced in June 2020, while the US has waffled on its own stance, attaching strings and establishing deadlines that weren’t followed through on.
More Regulation Is Coming
This whole debacle was confusing enough that we ran a Q&A specifically to explain it. And now, our final question on that page — Would Biden reverse this? — has been answered. Here’s what we wrote back then:
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden hasn’t made a statement about the TikTok issue, and it is far from a given that he would chose to reverse a ban on the video app. Biden and Trump have similar positions on trade with China, and the Biden campaign ordered staffers to delete TikTok from their phones back in July, citing security concerns.
Now, Biden has indeed reversed the decision, but replaced it with his own call to establish data privacy guidelines specifically for apps controlled by foreign actors. Biden didn’t like Trump’s approach, but he seems to agree with the general idea.
Still, as long as TikTok tiptoes around the outcomes of Biden’s new executive order, its continued success in the US looks far more likely than it did last year.