It's official: Biden has reversed Trump's executive order to ban TikTok in the United States, ending a period of uncertainty over the immediate fate of the wildly popular social media app. But TikTok's troubles with the US government are far from over.
On Wednesday mornings, Biden issued an executive order that Trump's previous executive order banning TikTok over national security concerns has been revoked. (Trump's injunction never really went into effect because US courts have rejected it.) Biden's executive order also called for a broader U.S. government review of all apps associated with "a foreign adversary," such as China. This means that TikTok and other China-affiliated companies may face more restrictions in the future if they are found to pose a risk to the economy or national security of the United States.
Biden's approach to TikTok differs significantly from Trump's, who first tried to ban the app and later deal with the details. But it is still in line with Trump's general policy to use sanctions to limit the rising power of Chinese tech companies in the US economy. So while TikTok has been spared the looming threat of being kicked off the US internet anytime soon, his company — along with other popular Chinese consumer apps like WeChat — is still under long-term scrutiny.
“This order demonstrates that on a bipartisan basis, everyone from Trump to Biden agrees that this aspect of our infrastructure is at risk from foreign influence, and that we must use our sanctioning powers when necessary to do something about it.” Bobby Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas who specializes in national security law, told Recode.
A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment.
In practical terms, Biden's order means TikTok can continue to operate in the US without the imminent threat of being shut down overnight, as Trump tried to do.
More broadly, however, Biden has called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to review all apps developed or owned by people or companies "subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including the People's Republic of China," and to evaluate potential threats to national security and the personal data of US residents. "The federal government should evaluate these threats through a rigorous, fact-based analysis," the executive order said; the Department of Commerce has 120 days to provide its first report on the matter.
The order also calls on the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security to assess the "threat" and "vulnerability" of Chinese tech companies present.
multiple other American politicians than Trump is concerned that TikTok poses a threat to US national security because it can share user data with the Chinese government. TikTok disputes this. So far, there is no public evidence to support such data sharing claims. In fact, the executive order calls for more investigation into the case.
While Biden takes a more measured approach than Trump on TikTok, he has made it clear that he intends to crack down on the Chinese tech sector in the US — which could prove challenging for TikTok.
Last week Biden expanded a Trump administration blacklisting on Chinese companies in which US individuals or companies are prohibited from investing. And aside from the now overturned Trump-era ban, the US government is still seeking a separate assessment of TikTok by a powerful government agency that assesses foreign acquisitions of US companies called the Commission on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS).
CFIUS has called on TikTok to divest from its Chinese owner ByteDance. This would mean that the company could still be forced to sell or outsource some of its business, especially the way it stores user data, to a US-based company.
Meanwhile, TikTok is more popular than ever in the US, with over 100 million monthly active users. For now, those users can continue to enjoy TikTok without worrying about the app shutting down. But that doesn't mean China-affiliated social media companies can avoid more problems with the US government in the future.