The Trump administration will bar downloads of the popular Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat beginning on Sunday, calling the apps a threat to national security.
The Commerce Department, which is the agency that will implement the ban, said in a statement that each of the apps “collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories” and “is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the [Chinese Communist Party]. This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.”
Tencent’s WeChat has 19 million daily active users in the U.S., according to data provider Apptopia. The video app TikTok, owned by ByteDance, revealed some of its U.S. operating statistics in a legal filing when it sued to U.S. government last month over the threat to its operations in this country: By June of this year, TikTok had more than 100 million American active users each month and more than 50 million U.S. daily users.
Starting Sunday, the apps will not be available for download in U.S. app stores, nor will software updates be available to U.S. users. The app will not disappear from users’ phones, however. The administration is also specifically banning companies from:
-Providing content delivery network (CDN) services that support the apps.
-Providing internet peering or transit services that allow the apps to function.
-Supporting payment processing or transferring funds through WeChat.
-Using any of the apps’ code, functions or services in software or services that are “developed and/or accessible” in the U.S. The rules don’t apply to transactions with U.S. companies which use WeChat outside the U.S. for customer engagement and transactions. All of those conditions will apply to WeChat as of Sunday, but for TikTok, it only faces the download ban until November 12, when all the other rules will apply as well.
It’s possible that the bans may still be averted, Reuters reported. TikTok parent ByteDance has been attempting to sell its operations in the U.S. and according to published reports, both ByteDance and would-be partner Oracle — which would become a “trusted technology provider” for TikTok’s U.S. operations — have accepted last-minute additional conditions from the Trump administration that could solidify a solution. One of the issues is just how much of the company’s U.S. operations that ByteDance would continue to own — and if it’s a majority, the Trump administration has signaled that it may not support the deal. Conversely, the South China Morning Post reported that the deal will also need to be approved by Chinese regulators and may run afoul of recent restrictions on technology exports that China has added in retaliation to similar moves by the U.S.