It's official: Biden has lifted Trump's executive order banning TikTok in the US, ending a period of uncertainty about the immediate fate of the hugely popular social media app. But TikTok's problems with the US government are far from over.
On Wednesday morning, Biden issued an executive order that overturned Trump's previous executive order banning TikTok over national security concerns. (Trump's order never went into effect because it was rejected by US courts.) Biden's executive order also called for a broader review of all apps by the US government with ties to "a foreign adversary" like China. This means that TikTok and other China-related companies may face further restrictions in the future if they are found to pose a risk to the United States economy or national security.
Biden's approach to TikTok is very different from Trump's, who should try to ban the app first and deal with the details later. But it is still in line with Trump's general policy to impose sanctions on the growing power of Chinese tech companies in the US economy. So even though TikTok has been spared the looming danger of short-term exclusion from the US Internet, its business – along with other popular Chinese consumer apps like WeChat – is still on trial in the long term.
"This arrangement shows that everyone from Trump to Biden, across all parties, agrees that this aspect of our infrastructure is threatened by foreign influence and that we should use our sanctions powers to do something about it," said Bobby Chesney, a professor at the university of Texas, who specializes in national security law, Recode said.
A TikTok spokesman declined to comment.
In practical terms, Biden's order means that TikTok can continue to operate in the U.S. without the imminent threat of an overnight shutdown, as Trump has attempted.
In a broader sense, however, Biden has requested the US Department of Commerce to review all apps developed by, or owned by, individuals or companies that are "under the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including the People's Republic of China" and Assessing potential threats to national security and the personal information of US citizens. "The federal government should assess these threats through a rigorous, evidence-based analysis," says the ordinance; the Department of Commerce has 120 days to submit its first report on the matter.
The order also calls on the director of the National Intelligence Service and the Minister of Homeland Security to assess the "threat" and "vulnerability" of Chinese technology companies.
Several US politicians besides Trump has fears that TikTok poses a threat to US national security because it could share user data with the Chinese government. TikTok denies this. To date, there has been no public evidence of such data-sharing claims. The executive order effectively calls for further investigation into the matter.
Although Biden has taken a more moderate approach to TikTok than Trump, 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.
Just last week, Biden expanded a Trump administration blacklist to include Chinese companies that U.S. individuals or companies are not allowed to invest in. And aside from the now-lifted Trump-era ban, the U.S. government is still pursuing a separate review of TikTok by a powerful government agency that reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS).
CFIUS has asked TikTok to part with its Chinese owner ByteDance. This would mean that the company could still be forced to sell or outsource part of its business – particularly storing user data – to a US company.
Meanwhile, TikTok is more popular than ever in the US with over 100 million monthly active users. For now, these users can still enjoy TikTok without worrying about the app shutting down. But that doesn't mean China-affiliated social media companies can avoid it more problems with the US government in the future.