The Trump administration will ban WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok from US app stores starting Sunday night, a move that will block Americans from downloading the Chinese-owned platforms over concerns they pose a national security threat.
- TikTok expressed “disappointment” over Mr Trump’s “unjust executive order”
- The app has 100 million users in the US, while WeChat has 19 million active US daily users
- Over time the lack of updates will degrade the apps’ usability
The bans affect only new downloads and updates and are less sweeping than expected, particularly for TikTok.
It gives TikTok’s parent group ByteDance some breathing space to clinch an agreement over the fate of its US operations.
WeChat, an all-in-one messaging, social media and electronic payment app with an average of 19 million daily active users in the US, faces more severe restrictions from Sunday.
On the other hand, the 100 million existing TikTok users in the US will see little change until November 12 when a ban on some technical transactions will kick in, affecting its functionality.
“The basic TikTok will stay intact until November 12,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network.
TikTok expressed “disappointment” over the move and said it would continue to challenge President Donald Trump’s “unjust executive order”.
The ban on new US downloads of the widely popular app could still be rescinded by Mr Trump before it takes effect if ByteDance seals a deal with California tech giant Oracle that addresses concerns about the security of its users’ data.
Escalating tensions with China
The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks amid escalating tensions with Beijing on a range of issues from trade and human rights to the battle for tech supremacy.
What is TikTok?
The hugely popular social media app you might not have heard of if you’re not Gen Z.
The ban on WeChat, used by over 1 billion people worldwide, bars the transfer of funds or processing of payments to or from people in the United States through it.
Users could also start to experience a slower service from Sunday night.
Officials said the ban on the popular apps was “to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data”.
The Commerce Department order bars Apple Inc’s app store, Alphabet Inc’s Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform “that can be reached from within the United States,” a senior commerce official told Reuters.
Officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps’ data collection poses.
China and the companies have denied US user data is collected for spying.
Is time up for TikTok in Australia?
Politicians here and abroad are worried about the influence of the increasingly popular Chinese-owned company.
“We have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of US laws and regulations,” Mr Ross said in a written statement.
While the bans are less dramatic than some had originally feared, commerce officials said additional transactions could be added at a later date.
The order does not ban US companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to US firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded ‘mini-app’ programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lack of updates will degrade usability
WeChat is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.
The Commerce Department will not seek to compel people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them.
“We are aiming at a top corporate level. We’re not going to go out after the individual users,” one commerce official said.
Over time, officials said, the lack of updates will degrade the apps’ usability.
WeChat raises difficult questions
As more Australian politicians and media organisations — including the ABC — sign up to the Chinese social media mega-app WeChat, questions are being raised about its new place within Australia’s democracy.
“We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States Government won’t have to take similar actions against.”
Commerce is also barring additional technical transactions with WeChat starting Sunday that will significantly reduce the usability and functionality of the app in the United States.
The order bars data hosting within the United States for WeChat, content delivery services and networks that can increase functionality and internet transit or peering services.
“What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality,” a senior commerce official said of WeChat users.
“It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was.”