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Trump banned TikTok and WeChat. Are video games next?

Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

President Trump's two executive orders targeting Chinese companies went public just after 6 p.m. Pacific on Thursday.

The first went after TikTok, to no one's surprise. The video app had been the subject of intensifying rhetoric from the Trump administration for weeks. The order declared that all U.S. entities would be banned from doing business with parent company ByteDance starting in 45 days -- a deadline that may serve mostly to put a shot clock on Microsoft's negotiations to buy TikTok.

The second order was a curveball. In a tangle of commas, it prohibited "any transaction that is related to WeChat," a messaging app ubiquitous in China and used by more than a billion people around the world, with Tencent Holdings, WeChat's parent company, "or any subsidiary of that entity."

By 7 p.m., the gamers were freaking out.

Trump, tweeted Noah J. Nelson, "basically just declared war on gamers as a whole. I'm sure that will work out nicely for him."

In addition to WeChat, Tencent either owns or holds stakes in the largest video game companies in America. Los Angeles' Riot Games, creator of "League of Legends," is a fully owned subsidiary of Tencent, and the company owns 40% of Epic Games, which makes the wildly popular "Fortnite." It also holds 5% stakes in gaming giants Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, and ownership or investment stakes in a number of other game studios.

 

The bulk of the executive order focused on WeChat, laying out a case that the messaging app is a threat to national security.

"Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users," the order reads, "This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans' personal and proprietary information."

The order also says that WeChat tracks Chinese nationals visiting the United States, and censors messages and content that the Chinese government deems politically sensitive, as has been reported by NPR and researchers at the University of Toronto.

But the fuzzy phrasing seemed to leave the door open to banning business with any of Tencent's video game companies. Even though TikTok had been dominating the headlines for weeks, Tencent quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, with panicked gamers predicting a mass uprising in response. The company said it was "reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding."

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