President Trump has signed an executive order banning Ant Group’s Alipay, WeChat Pay and 6 other Chinese apps in the US, according to Reuters. A senior administration official explained at a briefing that the order aims to prevent the Chinese government from gathering American users’ data and using it as a “mass tool for global oppression.”
The New York Times has posted a portion of the order, which reportedly says that the US government has come to the conclusion that a number of Chinese apps automatically capture “sensitive personally identifiable... and private information” from millions of users in the United States. The president raised concerns that the apps can be used to track the locations of federal employees and contractors and to build dossiers of personal information on them. “At this time,” he wrote in the order, “action must be taken to address the threat posed by these Chinese connected software applications.”
The order also affects Tencent’s QQ Wallet, Tencent’s QQ messenger, CamScanner, SHAREit, VMate (published by Alibaba Group subsidiary UCWeb) and Beijing Kingsoft Office Software’s WPS Office. It follows the administration’s previous attempts at banning TikTok and WeChat from app stores in the United States. If you’ll recall, both attempts were blocked by the court on freedom of speech grounds. A senior administration official told Reuters, however, that the White House believes these particular restrictions would stick — applications like Alipay wouldn’t be able to argue a case based on the First Amendment, they said.
As The NY Times noted, the restrictions’ reach would likely be pretty limited compared to the impact of a TikTok or a WeChat ban. Most of the apps’ users are in China, especially the payment applications, which require Chinese bank accounts. That said, the order could still have a negative impact on a lot of Chinese-Americans who often travel between the two countries, as well as businesses that use the apps to cater to Chinese customers. The order will take effect after 45 days, long after Trump leaves office. President-elect Joe Biden could revoke it after he assumes office, but his camp has yet to announce his decision.