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Judge temporarily halts Trump’s TikTok download ban

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A federal judge halted the Trump administration’s executive order to ban downloads of Chinese-owned video-sharing platform TikTok from U.S. mobile-app stores on Sunday, hours before it was set to take effect.

The decision: Washington, D.C., District Judge Carl Nichols granted TikTok’s request for a temporary injunction against the ban, set to take effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. It’s the latest development in an ongoing legal battle between TikTok and the Trump administration over the president’s efforts to restrict the app’s U.S. operations.

President Donald Trump ordered the TikTok ban in August, citing fears U.S. users’ personal information could fall into the hands of Chinese government officials. TikTok — owned-by Chinese tech giant ByteDance — sued the administration over the move, arguing the government violated its rights and that Trump’s actions “clearly reflect a political decision to campaign on an anti-China platform.”

The backdrop: The court ruling comes as the Trump administration separately conducts a national security review of a deal that would give U.S. companies Walmart and Oracle a stake in the popular app. Trump appeared to approve the proposal between ByteDance and the other companies last weekend, but on Monday said he would not support it unless Walmart and Oracle gained a controlling stake in the company. The deal the companies put forth would give Walmart and Oracle minority stakes in the new TikTok global.

TikTok has maintained throughout that it would not provide any U.S. user data to the Chinese government. The company has said its proposed deal with U.S. companies should satisfy the Trump administration’s national security concerns about the app.

What’s next: The contents of the ruling remain under seal. The two parties are set to review them Monday to determine if the full ruling can be unsealed. They then will meet by Wednesday at the latest to propose a schedule for next steps in the case, which will weigh whether Trump’s executive orders on TikTok violated the company’s rights.

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/27/judge-temporarily-halts-trumps-tiktok-download-ban-422416
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Cristiano Lima

TikTok and WeChat Both Avoid an App Store Ban for Now

The TikTok and WeChat apps on an iPhoneAscannio/Shutterstock

Last week the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a ban on both TikTok and WeChat that would remove both from all U.S. app stores starting Sunday, September 20. That date has passed, and both apps are still available for download. Both apps managed a reprieve, but it still remains to be seen how long that will last.

TikTok’s attempt to avoid a ban involved a buyout process that would turn into a U.S. company. The U.S. administration had said that nothing less would be acceptable, due to national security concerns. In the beginning, Microsoft was the frontrunner to purchase TikTok from Chinse parent company ByteDance, but those talks fell apart.

Oracle and Walmart teamed up and won the bidding process, but that left ByteDance as the majority owner, with Oracle merely owning a 20% stake. When the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the impending ban, it seemed the Oracle/Walmart bid wasn’t good enough.

But things change quickly, and now President Trump has given his approval of the Oracle and Walmart deal to purchase a stake in TikTok. The exact details are murky, though. According to Oracle’s CEO: “Upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

ByteDance seems to disagree and maintains it will have majority ownership of TikTok. In any case, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it will push back the ban by one week to September 27, 2020 at 11:59 p.m (no timezone given). So for now, TikTok remains available in app stores for download while all the companies involved hash out the details.

WeChat, on the other hand, isn’t involved in a buyout of any form. Instead, the courts intervened to block the ban. WeChat users sued on behalf of the company, arguing that a ban would impede First Amendment free speech rights.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler agreed, and blocked the ban on those grounds, writing “the plaintiffs have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor, and the plaintiffs establish sufficiently the other elements for preliminary-injunctive relief.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce didn’t comment on the ruling, but it can appeal to attempt to overturn the order and followthrough with the ban. So WeChat isn’t out of the woods just yet.

via The Verge, TechCrunch, CNBC

Source: https://www.reviewgeek.com/54572/tiktok-and-wechat-both-avoid-an-app-store-ban-for-now/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by U.S. district court

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A few days ago, the U.S. Commerce Department published a series of rules that aimed to block the downloading of TikTok and WeChat by American users, following an executive order signed by President Trump back in August. TikTok got a last minute reprieve yesterday following its signing of an investment and cloud services deal with Oracle and Walmart, which delayed the implementation of its download ban at least for a week. However, WeChat was effectively going to be shut down today, with a ban on downloads and a ban on any services that powered the service.

Now, there is a new wrinkle in the battle over the future of the social app, which is widely used in Chinese-speaking communities and is owned by China-based Tencent. A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban, following a lawsuit of WeChat users arguing that the ban undermined the free speech rights of American citizens. That court case, U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump, will be allowed to proceed.

In her short opinion published yesterday, United States magistrate judge Laurel Beeler, argued that the government’s case showed weaknesses on First Amendment grounds, its authority to act within existing legislation to allow the government to control industry, and its overall vagueness compared to the damage a ban would likely have on the Chinese-speaking community in the United States.

From her opinion:

Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national- security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns. And, as the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security.

Given the likelihood of a lawsuit proceeding and the immediate damage a ban would have if implemented, the judge initiated a nationwide injunction against implementation of the Commerce Department’s order to ban the app.

Commerce will have a chance to respond to this development, and whether it chooses to edit its order, pursue other avenues through the courts, or just rescind the order entirely, we will see in the coming days.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/20/trump-administrations-wechat-ban-is-blocked-by-u-s-district-court/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Danny Crichton

Silicon Valley’s Biggest Trump Supporter Wins TikTok

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Oracle, one of President Donald Trump’s biggest supporters in Silicon Valley, beat out Microsoft for TikTok’s U.S. operations on Sunday, multiple media outlets reported. Nonetheless, after weeks of talking about a sale, it is not clear that the deal will involve one.

Read more…

Source: https://gizmodo.com/silicon-valley-s-biggest-trump-supporter-wins-tiktok-1845044713
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Jody Serrano

China may kill TikTok’s U.S. operations rather than see them sold

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The controversial push to force Chinese tech unicorn ByteDance to divest part or all of its smash-hit TikTok social media service to a US-based company could be in doubt after a report today indicated that China’s government may oppose the transaction. According to reporting by Reuters, the Chinese government may prefer TikTok to simply shutter its U.S. operations instead of allowing it to be sold to an American company.

The potential divestment of TikTok is not a regular business transaction. Instead, the deal is being demanded by the U.S. government, as President Donald Trump directs foreign and economic policymaking via executive fiat. Leaning on his own fabled business acumen, the American premier has also demanded that his government receive a portion of any final sale price. It is not clear if that concept is legal.

As the U.S. and China spar around the globe for both economic and political supremacy, the deal is a flashpoint between the countries with a muddle of companies stuck in the middle. ByteDance is in the mix, along with Microsoft, Walmart and other companies to a lesser degree, like Oracle. The Trump administration has set a mid-September timeline for a deal being struck, though as the month burns away it is not clear if that timeline could be met.

The United States is not alone in taking steps to curb Chinese influence inside its borders, as the TikTok sale comes after India banned the app, along with dozens of other China-based applications.

The deal is also under pressure from a changing regulatory environment in China, with the country’s autocratic leadership changing its export rules to possibly include elements of TikTok that could limit a transaction, and perhaps scuttle its sale.

For ByteDance, the situation is a nightmare. For lead-suitor Microsoft, the transaction is a shotgun marriage that it might not be entirely enthused about. For the Trump administration, it’s an attempt at a power play. And for China’s increasingly authoritarian government, the deal could feel like submission. So, if the deal does manage to come together it will be more surprise than eventuality.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/11/china-may-kill-tiktoks-u-s-operations-rather-than-see-them-sold/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Alex Wilhelm

Russia, China and Iran trying to hack presidential race, Microsoft says

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Russian, Chinese and Iranian hackers have mounted cyberattacks against hundreds of organizations and people involved in the 2020 presidential race and U.S.-European policy debates, with targets including the campaigns of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Microsoft said Thursday.

The report is the most expansive public warning to date about the rapid spread of foreign governments’ efforts to wield hackers to undermine U.S. democracy.

The perpetrators include the same Kremlin-aligned Russian hacking group whose thefts and leaks of confidential Democratic Party documents helped torpedo Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes in 2016, said Microsoft, which offers products designed to detect such attacks.

Targets this time include the Trump and Biden campaigns, administration officials and an array of national and state parties, political consultants and think tanks, as well as groups such as the German Marshall Fund and Stimson Center that promote international cooperation.

“The activity we are announcing today makes clear that foreign activity groups have stepped up their efforts targeting the 2020 election as had been anticipated,” Microsoft said in a blog post. It added that its security tools detected and blocked “the majority of these attacks.”

The company did not answer numerous questions from POLITICO seeking more details about the attacks.

The revelations come amid a feud between congressional Democrats and the administration over what it knows about foreign threats against the election, in particular the Democrats’ accusations that Trump’s intelligence leaders are failing to alert the public about the Kremlin’s activities. Trump and his supporters have pushed a message that the Chinese are trying to help Biden — a claim not supported by intelligence officials, who have told POLITICO that Russia’s efforts pose the most active and acute danger.

An official intelligence community statement last month said China prefers that Trump not be reelected, that Russia is denigrating Biden and that Iran is undermining the president.

Some of the hackers’ targets confirmed Microsoft’s reporting, though none said the cyberattacks had succeeded.

“As President Trump’s re-election campaign, we are a large target, so it is not surprising to see malicious activity directed at the campaign or our staff,” said Thea McDonald, deputy press secretary for the president’s campaign team. “We work closely with our partners, Microsoft and others, to mitigate these threats. We take cybersecurity very seriously and do not publicly comment on our efforts.”

Likewise, the Republican National Committee has “been informed that foreign actors have made unsuccessful attempts to penetrate the technology of our staff members,” an RNC spokesperson said.

Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft has also alerted SKDKnickerbocker, one of Biden’s chief communications and strategy firms, that Russian hackers had unsuccessfully targeted its networks, Reuters said early Thursday ahead of the report’s release. Those attempts also failed, Reuters reported. The firm did not respond to later requests for comment.

The attacks on the Stimson Center were first observed in May, spokesperson David Solimini said, and Microsoft notified the think tank about the nature and source in late July. He and German Marshall Fund spokesperson Sydney Simon both said they’d seen no evidence that the attacks succeeded.

Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said Microsoft’s findings are “consistent with earlier statements by the Intelligence Community on a range of malicious cyber activities targeting the 2020 campaign.”

“It is important to highlight that none [of the targets] are involved in maintaining or operating voting infrastructure and there was no identified impact on election systems,” Krebs said in a statement. He added, “Everyone involved in the political process should stay alert against these sorts of attacks.”

The Treasury Department announced its own steps to combat Kremlin interference Thursday, saying it had designated the pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach for sanctions for promoting discredited allegations against Biden.

Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, confirmed that his group had been the target of apparently unsuccessful attacks from Chinese hackers, but cautioned that those did not appear election-related.

“It is not surprising that we would be targeted by China, based on the substance of our work,” Brookie said. “This appeared to be about information gathering and espionage as opposed to election interference of any kind.”

Among other details, Microsoft reported that:

— The hacking group popularly known as Fancy Bear, which is linked to Russian military intelligence and played a major role in the 2016 attacks on Democrats, has gone after more than 200 organizations in recent months. The targets include political campaigns, national and state party organizations, consultants for both parties and think tanks. (The group is also known as APT28, and Microsoft refers to it as Strontium.)

— A Chinese hacking group called Zirconium or APT31 has attacked high-profile people in Biden’s campaign and at least one prominent person in Trump’s campaign, the tech giant said.

— Phosphorus, an Iranian hacker group often called Charming Kitten, has gone after Trump campaign staffers and administration officials.

Microsoft’s blog post said that it had blocked the majority of the attacks.

The company’s analysis offered some new details on the hackers’ methods.

For instance, in 2016 the Russian group primarily relied on so-called spearphishing, which tricks victims into clicking on malicious email links to gain access to documents that it later released through outlets like WikiLeaks. But in recent months, Russia has shifted toward more crude “brute force” attacks and a technique called password spray, in which hackers input many passwords in a bid to guess their way into a system.

“Strontium also disguised these credential harvesting attacks in new ways, running them through more than 1,000 constantly rotating IP addresses, many associated with the Tor anonymizing service,” wrote Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust. “Strontium even evolved its infrastructure over time, adding and removing about 20 IPs per day to further mask its activity.”

This is far from the first time that a company in the cybersecurity business, not the federal government, has been the first to go public with details about major attacks against their customers by nation-states. Previous examples include a landmark 2013 report by the cyber firm Mandiant on Chinese Army-connected hackers conducting cyber espionage against U.S. critical infrastructure like the electrical power grid.

Meridith McGraw and Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.

Source: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/10/russia-china-iran-cyberhack-2020-election-411853
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tim Starks

Google pulls ‘Remove China Apps’ from Play Store

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Remove China Apps, an app that gained popularity in India in recent weeks and did exactly what its name suggests, has been pulled from the Play Store.

The top trending app in India, which was downloaded more than 5 million times since late May and enabled users to detect and easily delete apps developed by Chinese firms, was pulled from Android’s marquee app store for violating Google Play Store’s Deceptive Behaviour Policy, TechCrunch has learned.

Under this policy an app on Google Play Store cannot make changes to a user’s device settings, or features outside of the app without the user’s knowledge and consent, and not it can encourage or incentivize users into removing or disabling third-party apps.

The app, developed by Indian firm OneTouch AppLabs, gained popularity in India in part because of a growing anti-China sentiment among many citizens as tension between the world’s two most populous nations has escalated in recent days over a Himalayan border dispute.

Several Indian celebrities in recent days have backed the idea of deleting Chinese apps. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev tweeted a video over the weekend that showed him deleting several apps that had affiliation with China.

Responding to a tweet from an Indian actor deleting TikTok from his phone, Nupur Sharma, a spokeswoman for India’s ruling party BJP, said it was “great to see concerned citizens setting an example” and “we ought to hit them where it hurts most.”

Citing an industry source, Chinese state-run Global Times news outlet reported on Tuesday that if the Indian government allows the “irrational anti-China sentiment” to continue it risks ruining bilateral relations that is “likely to draw tit-for-tat punishment from Beijing.”

The report added that some users in China ridiculed Remove China Apps and urged Indians to “throw away” their smartphones, referring to Chinese smartphone makers’ dominance in India’s smartphone market.

If the sentiment from India persists, it could mean bad news for several Chinese firms such as ByteDance and UC Browser that count India as their biggest overseas market. TikTok, which weeks ago was grappling with content moderation efforts in India, sparked a new debate over the weekend after a popular creator claimed that a video she posted on TikTok was pulled by the Chinese firm.

The video was critical of the Chinese government, she said. In a statement to TechCrunch, a TikTok spokesperson said the platform welcomes diversity of users and viewpoints and said it had implemented a more rigorous review process and reinstated the video.

In April, India amended its foreign direct investment policy to enforce tougher scrutiny on Chinese investors looking to cut checks to firms in the world’s second largest internet market. New Delhi, which maintains a similar stand for investors from several other neighboring nations, said the measure was introduced to “curb the opportunistic takeover” of Indian firms going through distress because of the global pandemic.

India’s Prime Minister Modi has also aggressively promoted the idea of boycotting goods made by foreign firms and advised the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens to look for local alternatives as part of his push to make India “self-reliant” and revive the slowing economy.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/06/02/remove-china-apps-google-play-store/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Manish Singh