Washington (AFP)

Despite the reasons advanced by Donald Trump, the turn of the screw against the TikTok and WeChat platforms, Chinese jewels of the Internet, does not present a "major" interest for the security of the United States, believe the experts of the sector who suspect the president-candidate to have other motivations.

"There is no justification for banning an application just because it is Chinese," Daniel Castro of the Foundation for Innovation and Information Technology told AFP.

"Accusations of security risks must be supported by solid evidence, not by unfounded innuendos," he continued, fearing that the measure would backfire on US tech giants.

"They will lose global market share if other countries start enforcing the same rules and blocking American companies because they fear being watched by the United States," he said.

Donald Trump on Thursday signed a decree banning, within 45 days, all transactions of people under US jurisdiction with ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of the TikTok light video application.

He took a comparable measure for the WeChat platform, which belongs to the Chinese giant Tencent and is omnipresent in the lives of the Chinese (messaging, remote payments, reservations ...).

The Republican billionaire invoked a "national emergency", accusing the two applications of collecting, on behalf of Beijing, the personal information of their users, both American and Chinese present in the United States.

The two services "pose more of a political problem than a security threat," said Nicholas Weaver, professor of computer security at the University of California.

They certainly collect the data of their hundreds of millions of users and WeChat stores them on servers in China which, under a 2017 law, must be accessible to Chinese intelligence services.

“WeChat uses encrypted links to its servers in China, but those servers can read them and the Chinese government can read them too,” Weaver said.

For him, however, there is no real alternative to exchange with Chinese. "By banning WeChat, it will mainly prevent Americans from communicating with friends or relatives in China, which is a horrible idea," he said.

- "Discretion" -

As for the TikTok application, extremely popular with young people, it does indeed represent "a massive data extraction operation" but neither more nor less than other American social networks. “Of course the Chinese government can access it, but like the US government,” he said.

For this expert, these platforms do not represent a particular risk as long as users are aware of the danger. The best approach "is not a complete ban but to better communicate with American companies to call them to be vigilant, and to configure government systems to avoid the risks" of espionage, he advises.

"The real security threats - and there are - are best managed with discretion," said Mr. Weaver.

Neither WeChat nor TikTok should be installed on the phones of US officials or officials, said Adam Segal, director of the digital security program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

But the ban "is not an essential action to increase cybersecurity", he also judges, speculating on a possible political motivation for the decision of Donald Trump, who hopes to win a new mandate on November 3.

The Republican president "seems motivated by his sense of technological competition with the Chinese and his desire to be firm towards China as the election approaches," said Mr. Segal, stressing the ambiguity of the announcement.

The American administration "was very clear when it said that we were going to compete with China and that we had to contain it," he said. On the other hand, he continues, "she has not made it clear what she expects from China."

© 2020 AFP