TikTok and WeChat face download ban on Sunday

By Ellen Daniel

Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat are to be banned from US app stores from Sunday as the US Department of Commerce carries out US President Donald Trump’s 6 August executive orders.

In a statement, the US Department of Commerce said that the order is intended to “safeguard the national security of the United States”.

As of September 20, downloading or updating the WeChat mobile application from app stores will effectively be prohibited in the US, with the department also banning “any provision of services through the WeChat mobile application for the purpose of transferring funds or processing payments within the US”.

Users in the US will still be able to access TikTok until 12 November, although new downloads or updates will be banned from Sunday, when further restrictions will come into force unless President Donald Trump approves a deal between computer software company Oracle and Tiktok.

In a statement, TikTok said:

“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 US from November 12.

“In our proposal to the US administration, we’ve 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 US government oversight of US data and security. Furthermore, an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the US, which would include all services and data serving US consumers.

“We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods.”

“The banning of TikTok in the US will apply even greater pressure to the Chinese company”

Last month, the Trump administration published an executive order giving TikTok parent company ByteDance, along with WeChat’s owner Tencent, 45 days to find an American buyer for their US operations or face a ban.

Earlier this week it was announced that Oracle had agreed to become ByteDance’s US business partner, making TikTok a US company meaning US users’ data will be processed within the country. However, this is yet to be approved by either Washington or Beijing.

According to Reuters, the bans are “less dramatic than some had originally feared”, but it remains to be seen whether further restrictions will follow.

Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy believes that latest from the Department of Commerce will put pressure on Bytedance to secure a deal with a US partner:

“It seems that TikTok has not yet been able to secure a sale, and for this reason the app is now preparing to be pulled from US app stores on Sunday.

“The banning of TikTok in the US will apply even greater pressure to the Chinese company, which could speed up ongoing negotiations between US companies like Oracle and Walmart and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance.

“Whether the ban sticks will largely depend on whether a US company is able to successfully negotiate the acquisition of the US arm of TikTok. For US citizens, who have never had to endure this kind of app censorship before, the sudden inability to download TikTok is bound to cause some controversy.”

He believes that the move could have wider ramifications in the upcoming US presidential election:

“It is believed that around 15% of TikTok’s 100 million users will be first time voters – with a total of 70% of US TikTok users of voting age – meaning that this app ban could be enough to motivate huge numbers of people to vote against Trump.”

“There are other apps that may even pose more of a threat”

The ban is part of a recent crackdown on Chinese companies from the Trump administration with the Department of Commerce saying that the collection of “vast swaths of data from users” as well as the companies being “subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the Chinese Communist Party” creates “unacceptable risks to our national security”. Both companies have denied this.

However, Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET, explained that the perceived risks associated with TikTok’s data collection practices are not exclusive to the company.

“All apps come with a level of risk and TikTok’s data collection practices aren’t that different to other advertising based businesses that flourish amongst the app stores,” he said.

“If anything, there are other apps that may even pose more of a threat due to the amount of data that they suck out of their devices in order for their business models to work.”


Read more: TikTok to become US company with ByteDance, Oracle owning shares.