In China, western media is not allowed, hence users cannot access the world’s most popular free chat application, Facebook-owned WhatsApp, to make free calls and texts.
One local app, however, dominates: WeChat, owned by Tencent Technology, which has its hands in many U.S. companies, including Snap, Tesla, Activision Blizzard, Reddit and Epic Games, which publishes the mega-smash Fortnite. Additionally, it owns a portion of Sweden-based Spotify and all of Riot Games, home of the League of Legends game.
President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order banning the use of WeChat in the United States, a ban that would extend to Apple and Google offering downloads in their app stores.
He also signed a separate order banning the Chinese app TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance. Both are to go into effect by mid-September. ByteDance is negotiating with Microsoft to sell its US based operations, which would allow the millions of young people who love TikTok to keep on using it.
Meanwhile, ByteDance says it plans to sue to stop the ban.
TikTok is one of the most used apps in the United States, currently No. 4 on Apple’s iTunes chart and No. 5 on Google Play. But what about WeChat?
It doesn’t crack the top 50 on the domestic charts, but that’s not the case in China, where it’s used by over 1 billion people.
—It says it connects a billion people with “calls, chats and more.” The more includes reading news, playing games, downloading colorful stickers, engaging in challenges with friends to see who can walk more steps and using the app to pay for stuff.
—The app is currently available domestically on the Apple and Google app stores, but you need to know somebody before you can register. WeChat instructs you to have a friend take a picture of a QR code required for membership first.
—WeChat is widely used in the United States by people who used to live in China and use it to communicate with loved ones, by Chinese students studying here and interacting with people at home. CNBC notes that banning WeChat here in the U.S. would be “devastating” to Chinese families.
Beyond that, add in anyone who does business with China, with for the tech industry, includes pretty much all participants. Most of the world’s most popular tech products are manufactured in Shenzhen, the home base for Tencent. Those products include the iPhone, Ring doorbell and most Amazon labeled products, like the Echo and Fire TV devices, and many popular TV brands, including TCL and Hisense.
Trump says any app based in China is an issue.
The app captures “personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives,” Trump’s order said.
Tencent says it stores users data in Hong Kong and Ontario, Canada. It says it won’t share the data, except “if we are instructed to by a court, authority or compelled by law.”
Tencent owns two popular chat apps, WeChat and QQ. Both are similar, but WeChat is aimed more at the broader Asian market, while QQ is focused solely on China. Both are used to make free phone calls, chat with friends and meet new ones. WeChat has translation tools for this, while QQ does not.
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