The U.S. government will prohibit app stores from offering new downloads of TikTok and WeChat, two popular Chinese-owned apps, effective Sunday over the Trump administration’s claims that it wants to prevent the Chinese government from accessing data on Americans.
The new rules, issued Friday by the Commerce Department, is pursuant to President Trump’s executive orders signed Aug. 6, 2020, banning business transactions with TikTok and WeChat as of Sept. 20. That means Apple’s App Store and Google Play, for example, will be barred from offering downloads of the apps or updates to users in the U.S.
TikTok, the popular short form video-sharing app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, is in the middle of negotiating a deal with the Treasury Department to sell majority-control ownership of the app to U.S. interests, including Oracle. Trump has set a deadline of Nov. 12 for such a deal to be completed; otherwise TikTok would be fully banned from being used in the U.S. If the TikTok deal with Oracle and other parties is approved before Sunday, Trump could drop the app download ban.
A TikTok spokeswoman said in a statement, “We disagree with the decision from the Commerce Department, and are disappointed that it stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the U.S. from November 12. Our community of 100 million U.S. users love TikTok because it’s a home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection, and we’re committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”
Tencent-owned WeChat is set to be disabled in the U.S. as of Sunday, including the ability for American users to transfer money or process payments within the app.
In a statement, Tencent said it is reviewing the Commerce Department’s restrictions for WeChat U.S. users and said that the app “was designed to serve international users outside of mainland China and has always incorporated the highest standards of user privacy and data security.”
“The restrictions announced today are unfortunate, but given our desire to provide ongoing services to our users in the U.S. — for whom WeChat is an important communication tool — we will continue to discuss with the government and other stakeholders in the U.S. ways to achieve a long-term solution,” Tencent said.
U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross, in announcing the new prohibitions, said that the actions “prove once again that President Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee our national security and protect Americans from the threats of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“At the President’s direction, 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 U.S. laws and regulations,” Ross said in a statement.
The Commerce Department said WeChat and TikTok both collect “vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories.” The U.S. government has pointed out that as operated by companies in China, they are 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.”
According to TikTok, in its proposal to the Trump administration, it has already committed to “unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and U.S. government oversight of U.S. data security.” Referring to its pending deal with Oracle, TikTok said that “an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the U.S., which would include all services and data serving U.S. consumers.”
TikTok’s interim chief, Vanessa Pappas, tweeted Friday, “We agree that this type of ban would be bad for the industry. We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation. This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law.” That’s a reference to TikTok’s lawsuit against Trump and his administration, seeking a ruling blocking enforcement of the order, saying it violates TikTok’s right to due process and that the order was “not based on a bona fide national emergency and authorizes the prohibition of activities that have not been found to pose ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat'” as required by U.S. law.
Pappas, who took over after the resignation last month of CEO Kevin Mayer, was replying to Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, who commented, “I’ve said this before, but a U.S. TikTok ban would be quite bad for Instagram, Facebook, and the internet more broadly.”
The Commerce Department rules prohibit provision of service “to distribute or maintain the WeChat or TikTok mobile applications, constituent code, or application updates through an online mobile application store in the U.S.” as of Sunday as well as “any provision of services through the WeChat mobile application for the purpose of transferring funds or processing payments within the U.S.”