Science & Technology

/

Knowledge

WeChat is a lifeline for the Chinese diaspora. What happens now that Trump banned it?

Suhauna Hussain and Taylor Avery, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Cindy Wang's whole life is on WeChat.

Through the Chinese everything app, the 24-year-old shops for clothing and sends photos and audio messages to her grandma and uncle in Guangzhou. It's how she schedules appointments with her hairstylist and where she found her bao supplier -- a local woman who sells the steamed buns out of her car.

For millions of people around the globe, and in swaths of the United States with concentrated Chinese populations -- including Southern California communities in the San Gabriel Valley and Irvine, where Wang lives -- WeChat is a way of life.

"We always use WeChat because everyone else uses it," Wang said. "It's like Facebook messenger but ten times better, ten times more sophisticated."

But with the Trump administration targeting the app, she worries that soon she and her parents will be cut off from their cultural community in the U.S. and lose the last line of communication they have with the rest of their family thousands of miles away.

Trump signed executive orders last week barring business transactions with WeChat and TikTok, the popular video app. The actions came after Washington deemed apps from Chinese software companies national security threats, warning that they could jeopardize Americans' privacy.

 

While the dictate was vague and its impact remains unclear, experts say the order could cause the WeChat app to be pulled from Apple and Google online stores when it goes into effect in fewer than 45 days. Without the ability to download updates, users of the app would become more vulnerable to security breaches and miss out on tweaks that keep it functioning smoothly, decreasing the app's utility over time.

In his rhetoric, Trump has kept the focus on TikTok, haranguing and threatening the company for months, but WeChat users may feel the effects of his actions more acutely. That's because TikTok has an out: Microsoft has publicly acknowledged it is in talks with the app's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to take control of operations in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. If the sale goes through, consumers aren't likely to face the disappearance of the app anytime soon.

No such fallback plan exists for WeChat, often described as the Swiss army knife of apps -- a messaging service, payments platform and social network all in one. With China's patchwork of internet firewalls, filters and censors locking out most outside technology, WeChat is one of the few bridges left between China and the rest of the digital world.

News of the federal government's WeChat crackdown sent Southland communities and Chinese enclaves nationwide into a panic, with people scanning news, posting angry and fearful rebukes of the move online and messaging friends and relatives to parse what the decision could mean for them, their families and their businesses.

...continued

swipe to next page