Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump's crackdown on TikTok suggests that the U.S. government is starting to see the internet more like China does — as a network that countries can and should control within their borders.

The big picture: Today's global internet has split into three zones, according to many observers: The EU's privacy-focused network; China's government-dominated network; and the U.S.-led network dominated by a handful of American companies. TikTok's fate suggests China's model has U.S. fans as well.

Why it matters: As the global internet splinters further, the U.S. and China look set to enter a Cold War-style battle for the hearts and minds of global users and developing nations. In this fight, U.S. nationalism may make a weaker case to the world than the ideal of internet freedom and open networks that the U.S. once evangelized.

Driving the news: President Trump's threat to ban TikTok from the U.S. has fast-tracked an effort to force the video-sharing app's Chinese owners to sell it to a U.S. company (Microsoft is in talks).

Be smart: The move puts other foreign-owned companies on notice that the U.S. intends to favor American-owned businesses in the digital world.

  • That's a giant break from a long-established bipartisan consensus that American interests are best served by a U.S. marketplace, online and off, managed as a level playing field.

China started this game — it was the first country to self-isolate from the global internet.

  • China controls information flows inside its borders, and its "great firewall" keeps most information the government dislikes from entering the country.
  • The Chinese government has ensured that its most widely used search and social services are domestically owned, and its laws now require any internet service to share data with the authorities.

Meanwhile, the EU's new privacy rules have created a different kind of internet zone governed by a stringent set of standards for handling individual user data.

  • Last month, a major EU ruling struck down the Privacy Shield, an arrangement between the EU and the U.S. that enabled companies to transfer data into and out of EU nations without risk.

Trump's crackdown on TikTok suggests that the U.S. is now adopting a more China-like perspective on what kinds of actions governments should take toward internet companies, including:

  • picking winners and losers among companies based on the whims of leaders;
  • insisting that companies make data available to the government for its needs — as Attorney General William Barr's argument for weak encryption does;
  • threatening to punish private platforms unless they support political leaders' preferred form of speech regulation.

Yes, but: Concerns over TikTok's willingness to share U.S. user data with the Chinese government are real.

  • TikTok says it keeps all such data outside of China and the reach of the Chinese government's laws.
  • Many security experts view all Chinese-owned businesses as vulnerable to government interference and intelligence demands.

Our thought bubble: During the Cold War, America's reputational advantage over the Soviet Union as a rule-of-law democracy was regularly undercut by U.S. operations to overthrow governments abroad and American failures to guarantee human rights at home.

  • The Trump administration's strong-arming of TikTok threatens to similarly squander the U.S.'s high ground as a champion of fair markets and networks.

What's next: Zoom, the videoconferencing service that's become a pandemic staple, could be the next China-linked company to face the White House's wrath.

Go deeper: Dan Primack interviews White House trade adviser Peter Navarro about the TikTok deal on the Axios Re:Cap podcast

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
19 hours ago - Economy & Business

White House pushes to uphold TikTok ban

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday filed legal opposition to TikTok's request to delay a ban on downloading the app, with a federal judge in Washington scheduling a hearing on the request for Sunday morning.

Why it matters: The White House could have simply postponed the ban on its own for another week or two, as it did last Friday. This move suggests it's seeking to use the ban as leverage in ongoing negotiations.

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Updated Sep 24, 2020 - Energy & Environment

China's split personality on climate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new insta-analysis of China's vow to achieve "carbon neutrality" before 2060 helps to underscore why Tuesday's announcement sent shockwaves through the climate and energy world.

Why it matters: Per the Climate Action Tracker, a research group, following through would lower projected global warming 0.2 to 0.3°C. That's a lot!

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Preview: "Axios on HBO" interviews Bob Woodward

On the next episode of "Axios on HBO," journalist Bob Woodward tells Axios National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan why he spoke out about President Trump being the "wrong man for the job."

  • "I did not want to join the ranks of the Senate Republicans who know that Trump is the wrong man for the job, but won't say it publicly," Woodward said.

Catch the full interview on Monday, Sept. 28 at 11 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.