Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the Trump Administration is expanding efforts to ban Chinese technology from the United States, by including Chinese-owned apps.
“With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat, and others are significant threats to the personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP (Chinese Communist Party) content censorship,” he said.
Under proposed plans, the U.S. would ban the untrusted apps from U.S. app stores.
But while TikTok has the potential to remain available in the U.S., through a possible buyout from Microsoft that would give the company the ability to take control of operations in the United States, other apps, such as WeChat, do not have such an opportunity.
WeChat is a messaging and social media app developed by Tencent, a technology company headquartered in Shenzen, China. It is considered an “everything app,” due to its multiple features and has become a part of the modern Chinese lifestyle. It has over 1 billion active users, including international students attending the University of Illinois.
David Gao, a rising junior majoring in mathematics and physics, said a ban on the messaging app can have potential consequences for the international student community. A WeChat user himself, Gao said the severity of the ban could worsen, depending on how such a ban is implemented.
If the app is simply removed from the app stores from which it is available in, as indicated by Pompeo, anyone who had downloaded the app prior to the store removal would still be able to use it.
But bigger problems could arise if further actions are taken.
“If the ban is really enforced, say, (by) forcing Tencent to not allow WeChat be usable in the U.S., then I would have to migrate to a different platform,” Gao said. “There are alternatives, the foremost of which is Tencent’s another instant messaging app, QQ. My friends and I could use QQ for communication instead.”
Such a plan could go awry, however, if the Trump Administration enforces a ban making all apps made by Tencent unusable. Previously, Pompeo has specifically called out Tencent.
If such a ban is put into place, it could potentially cause communication problems between international students studying in the U.S. and their friends and family in mainland China.
“We probably have no other alternative, since we need an app that is usable in both China and the US, and most, probably all, major U.S. social medias are not accessible in China,” Gao said. “If the federal government elects to ban most or even all Chinese apps, that may be an even bigger issue and may essentially leave me with no alternative, so that would indeed be frustrating.”
The Chinese government has spied on WeChat users, saying that it wants to stop the spread of “misinformation” and “rumors.” U.S. government officials have said that the restrictions being placed on Chinese technology companies are being done to protect U.S. consumer data and intellectual property. While Gao understands the security and privacy concerns that apps such as TikTok and WeChat bring up, he still thinks the U.S. should not be banning such apps.
“I have been angry over China’s ban on Facebook, Twitter, etc. for a long time, understanding that this is nothing but a form of censorship and authoritarianism, and, as you can imagine, Chinese social medias are heavily censored,” he said. “Now, were the U.S. to proceed, it would truly be disheartening as a gross abuse of the federal executive branch’s national security powers and an attack on the freedom of speech. There are numerous ways to address this that is more consistent, in my opinion, with free speech rights.”