US President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered sweeping restrictions against Chinese-owned social media stars TikTok and WeChat, which could strangle their ability to operate in the United States.
Trump's executive order, which takes effect in 45 days, bars anyone under US jurisdiction from doing business with TikTok or WeChat's owners.
It heaps pressure on ByteDance, TikTok's parent, to close negotiations to sell to Microsoft and further escalates the Trump administration's multi-front confrontation with Beijing.
Trump's order cites a threat to "national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States" in taking aim at the companies.
"TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories," the order contended.
Data from TikTok could potentially be used by China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage, the order alleged.
The TikTok mobile app has been downloaded some 175 million times in the US and more than a billion times around the world.
The US Senate voted Thursday to bar TikTok from being downloaded onto US government employees' telephones, intensifying US scrutiny of the popular Chinese-owned video app.
The bill passed by the Republican controlled Senate now goes to the House of Representatives, led by Democrats.
Several US agencies already bar employees from downloading TikTok onto their phones.
Trump and other officials have argued the app could be used for Chinese espionage, a claim repeatedly denied by TikTok, which does not operate within China.
Trump, who has locked horns with China on a range of issues including trade and the coronavirus pandemic, has set a deadline of mid-September for TikTok to be acquired by a US firm or be banned in the United States.
Microsoft has expanded its talks on TikTok to a potential deal that would include buying the global operations of the fast-growing video-sharing app, the Financial Times reported Thursday.
Microsoft declined to comment on the report, after previously disclosing it was considering a deal for TikTok operations in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
TikTok's kaleidoscopic feeds of short video clips feature everything from hair dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life.
The company on Thursday announced plans for its first data center for European users, to be set up in Ireland.
WeChat is a messaging, social media, and electronic payment platform owned by TenCent Holdings and is reported to have more than a billion users.
Trump's order contended that WeChat captures user data that could then exploited by the Chinese government but provided no evidence that is happening.
"WeChat captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States," the order read.
"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."
© 2020 AFP