Given the chaos being sown by President Trump in his final days in office — a CNN headline that just came up on my screen reads: “Trump to speak to supporters in desperate coup attempt” — US policies towards China and regarding tech are hard to put a finger on at the moment.

The move by the New York Stock Exchange to delist Chinese telcos with links to the military is a case in point. On Monday, it reversed its decision to do so “in light of further consultation with relevant regulatory authorities”. Today, it went back to saying it would drop the shares of China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom from Monday. It said this was based on “new specific guidance” from the US Treasury about Mr Trump’s executive order made last year on Chinese companies with military links.

The president’s latest executive order on Tuesday was to ban transactions with Chinese payment applications including Alipay, WeChat Pay and Tencent’s QQ Wallet. In a message to Congress, he said the “pace and pervasiveness” of the spread of Chinese software apps “continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy” of the US.

“By accessing personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers Chinese connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information.”

Nothing is likely to happen though in the final fortnight of this administration, with legal appeals sure to take place. WeChat had already been targeted in a previous executive order, but a California judge blocked a ban and judges in Washington DC and Pennsylvania halted a ban on the TikTok short-video app.

Lex says Joe Biden could also revoke the decrees or implement them differently when he takes office, while Yuan Yang in Beijing thinks Mr Biden needs to ally with Europe to decide which of China’s military dual-use technologies pose a threat and should be restricted.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Russia was ‘intelligence gathering’ through SolarWinds
US security agencies said on Tuesday that Russia was likely behind a massive cyber espionage campaign uncovered late last year, with the motivation being “an intelligence gathering effort”, rather than for the purpose of data manipulation or other more destructive efforts.

2. New Year scrutiny of Nvidia’s Arm deal
The investigations are beginning in earnest, with the UK’s competition regulator first to prepare a probe of Nvidia’s $40bn acquisition of chip designer Arm, after rivals raised concerns about the deal. It said its inquiry would be separate from any examination by the UK government on the deal’s potential impact on national security or industrial policy.

3. App developers seek iOS workarounds
App developers are exploring surreptitious new forms of user tracking, reports Tim Bradshaw, in order to get round an iPhone update that will prevent apps from using advertising identifiers without users’ consent. Some app makers say they plan to use invasive tracking techniques such as “device fingerprinting” to work around the new restrictions.

4. Facebook faces Asia-Pacific political hurdles 
Facebook is pushing hard into developing Asian markets as the pace of its growth in the west slows, but a growing array of political stand-offs threatens the social media company’s relentless global expansion.

Column chart of Monthly active users (m) showing Facebook has more users in Asia-Pacific than any other region

5. Open AI’s surreal advance in imagery
OpenAI, which made a breakthrough last year with its AI language generator GPT-3, has now developed a system that can create images from short text captions. DALL-E, a portmanteau of artist Salvador Dalí and Pixar’s robot hero WALL-E, has produced illustrations including an armchair shaped like an avocado.

Tech Tools — Samsung’s new TVs

Samsung gave us a “First Look” today at its TVs for 2021. The emphasis was on going green, with remote controls powered by sunlight or indoor lighting rather than batteries from now on. Its Neo QLED line-up gives a nod to pandemic living with Samsung Health providing a virtual personal trainer in your living room. There is video conferencing from Google’s Duo and the ability to turn your screen into a computer display for working from home. Gaming is improved with a “Super Ultrawide” view and entertainment options have multiplied. MicroLED is the next big advance in screen componentry and Samsung said TVs using the technology would be available in 110in, 99in and smaller sizes by the end of the year, although they are likely to be still way outside mainstream consumers’ price range.