Two years of trade disputes between the U.S. and China have driven up the cost of consumer electronics, industrial equipment, soybeans, steel and washing machines. Now we are beginning to see what a tit-for-tat looks like when it comes for the internet.
The attack on TikTok by President Donald Trump opens a new front in the trade war. There’s not much precedent for the U.S. banning an internet property because it’s foreign—or for practically any other reason beside criminal conduct. There’s also no obvious mechanism for doing so like there is in China.
More than two decades ago, China erected a Great Firewall that created a sort of nationalized web, where Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. took the place of Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. Most Western companies that try to cross the chasm are unsuccessful or blocked, as Google was in 2010.
ByteDance Ltd., the Beijing-based owner of TikTok, rose on the mainland by hoovering up local user data to train and refine its artificial intelligence systems before becoming a global phenomenon. ByteDance is a success story in Beijing’s quest for so-called cyber-sovereignty.
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