with Tonya Riley

WeChat users are suing the Trump administration to block a recent executive order that could effectively ban the popular Chinese social app in the United States.

U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, a non-profit established to fight the executive order that says it is not affiliated with WeChat’s parent company Tencent, and several other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the weekend. The lawsuit claims the executive order was unconstitutional and that the Trump administration did not provide sufficient evidence to support claims that WeChat raises a national security threat. 

“In a stark violation of the First Amendment, the Executive Order targets and silences WeChat users, the overwhelming majority of whom are members of the Chinese and Chinese-speaking communities,” the lawsuit says. “It regulates constitutionally protected speech, expression, and association and is not narrowly tailored to restrict only that speech which presents national security risks to the United States.”

WeChat essentially acts as a digital bridge linking the United States and China – and banning the app would result in a greater splintering of the global Internet.

The lawsuit aims to highlight the potential downsides of Trump's crackdown on Chinese tech companies. The so-called “super app” that enables everything from payments to messaging is the primary channel that Chinese Americans use to communicate with family abroad who cannot access American social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, which don’t operate in mainland China. Many American companies also use the apps to communicate with business partners and to advertise their products to Chinese consumers. 

The lawsuit estimates that about 19 million Americans are active on WeChat, among the more than 1 billion people who use the service globally. The broad range of plaintiffs in the suit highlights the wide range of people who would be impacted by a ban on the app, ranging from a construction company owner to the founder of an educational nonprofit. Businesses including Disney and Walmart raised concerns that the ban would adversely impact their business in a recent call with the White House. 

“The importance of WeChat to Chinese Americans cannot be overstated because a significant portion of these individuals speak little or no English,” the lawsuit says. “Accordingly, a blanket prohibition on WeChat means that millions of individuals in the United States will be unable to find a comparable substitute on apps such as Facebook, which are designed for English-speaking users and primarily have English-speaking user networks within the United States.” 

The executive order, which Trump signed earlier this month, did not specify the nature of transactions it was seeking to bar on WeChat, but it could prevent the app from appearing in Apple and Google's App Stores when it takes effect after a 45-day period. The lawsuit criticized the order as “vaguely worded."

The Trump administration argued in the executive order that WeChat collects vast amounts of data from its users, and “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.” The order also argues that it could be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party. The lawsuit argues that there are less restrictive ways than a blanket ban on transactions to protect users' data and address these national security concerns. WeChat has said it protects users' privacy. 

The suit could be a harbinger of what to expect from TikTok, as it seeks to challenge a similar executive order targeting its business. 

TikTok confirmed to CNBC that it plans to sue the Trump administration as early as this week. The Trump administration hit TikTok with a very similar order at the same time earlier this month that would effectively ban it from operating in the United States, unless its Chinese parent company ByteDance sold it off to a U.S. buyer within 45 days. 

“To ensure that the rule of law prevails and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the Executive Order through the judicial system,” TikTok told CNBC

The challenge does not impact the company’s ongoing discussions about selling its business to Oracle or Microsoft, after the administration gave it 45 days to do so. Lawyers told The Technology 202 this month that the order targeting TikTok raised similar concerns over free expression.  

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg raised concerns about TikTok in meetings with lawmakers last year. 

Zuckerberg told Trump at an October dinner that the rise of the Chinese Internet was a bigger threat to American business than Facebook, Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz and Aruna Viswanatha at The Wall Street Journal report

Zuckerberg began to publicly raise alarms about Chinese tech companies and free speech at the same time and took a jab at TikTok in a speech to Georgetown students. But sources say Zuckerberg also specifically discussed the company in meetings with senators, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who just a month later co-wrote a letter to intelligence officials demanding an inquiry into TikTok. 

TikTok is a substantial competitor with Facebook at home and abroad. Facebook's Instagram recently launched a competing product, Reels.

The Journal was unable to determine what role Zuckerberg's comments may have played in the government's handling of TikTok. Zuckerberg has no recollection of discussing TikTok at the dinner with Trump, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said.

Microsoft is throwing its support behind Epic Games's battle with Apple.

The Seattle giant said cutting off Epic from Apple's developer tools would hurt Microsoft's gaming business as well as other developers, Stephen Nellis at Reuters reports. Microsoft uses Epic's “Unreal Engine” developer tool for its “Forza Street” racing game. 

“If Unreal Engine cannot support games for iOS or macOS, Microsoft would be required to choose between abandoning its customers and potential customers on the iOS and macOS platforms or choosing a different game engine when preparing to develop new games,” Kevin Gammill, Microsoft’s general manager of gaming developer experiences, told Reuters.

Epic, the maker of Fortnite and other popular games, is seeking a court order that would stop Apple from terminating its developer accounts. Apple has said it would reinstate the privileges if Epic Games complies with its payment rules.

Apple fired back Friday with its own allegations of anticompetitive behavior against Epic Games. Before refusing to pay developer fees on Fortnite, Epic's chief executive asked for an exception from the company to create its own game store within the App Store. When Apple rejected the idea, Epic Games then retaliated, Apple said in court filings.

Twitter flagged another tweet by Trump for violating its election integrity rules.
President Trump has said the U.S. Postal Service cannot facilitate mail-in voting in 2020 because it lacks emergency funding that he is blocking. (The Washington Post)

Trump suggested that voters could contract coronavirus by using the mail-in ballot drop boxes, Felicia Sonmez reports. Such drop boxes have been common for years in many states. More recently election officials have been promoting them to voters who are concerned that Postal Service delays might prevent mail ballots from arriving on time. 

Trump called them “A big fraud.”

Twitter said the tweet violated its rules “about civic and election integrity.” The company allowed a labeled version of the tweet to remain on the platform because the company said it “may be in the public's interest for the tweet to remain accessible,” but users cannot retweet, reply, or like it.

“We placed a public interest notice on this tweet for violating our Civic Integrity Policy for making misleading health claims that could potentially dissuade people from participation in voting,” the company said in a tweet Sunday afternoon.

The tweet is just the latest incident of Trump taking to the platform to spread baseless claims about vote-by-mail. Twitter previously labeled Trump tweets with misleading claims about vote-by-mail in California but has left more general claims about election fraud unchecked. Broad, nonspecific” allegations about election integrity do not violate Twitter's policies.

Facebook added a link to its Voting Information Center to the same post by Trump. Facebook says these labels are not fact checks and that it will apply them on all posts about voting. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan:

Inside the industry

Amazon's retail chief will retire next year.

Jeff Wilke, a 21-year Amazon veteran, was thought to be a likely successor for chief executive Jeff Bezos, Jay Greene and Abha Bhattarai report

“I don’t have a new job, and am as happy with and proud of Amazon as ever,” Wilke, 53, wrote in a memo to employees about his leaving. 

Wilke oversaw the company's massive online marketplace, which accounted for $88.9 billion in sales last quarter and employs 876,800 of the company's employees. 

“Jeff’s legacy and impact will live on long after he departs,” Bezos wrote. “He is simply one of those people without whom Amazon would be completely unrecognizable.” (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Dave Clark, the company's current senior vice president of  worldwide operations, will step in. Clark has led the company's coronavirus response, which has resulted in both substantial gains and put the company under the scrutiny of regulators for worker safety concerns.

Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services,  is now the most likely successor to Bezos. 

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  • The Republican National Convention will take place today through Thursday.
  • The Brookings Institute will hold an event titled "Can we alleviate racism and systemic inequality by expanding broadband during COVID-19?" on Tuesday at 2 p.m.

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