The US Commerce Department announced Friday that it will ban downloads of Chinese-owned social media apps WeChat and TikTok beginning Sunday.
With this announcement, the Commerce Department is enforcing the two executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in early August, which addressed what he labelled as the national security threat posed by the pair of Chinese apps. Trump’s orders branded TikTok and WeChat a “national emergency” with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain.
The August 14 order gave TikTok’s parent company ByteDance 45 days to sell its business in the US. According to the order, any transaction with TikTok’s owner or its subsidiaries would be prohibited. The second order similarly prohibited any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the US, with Tencent Holdings.
With this ban now set to go into effect, downloads of the TikTok and WeChat apps will be blocked and the apps removed from the Apple and Google app stores. However, existing users will still be able to use the apps if they have them installed prior to the app store removals. Additionally, updates to the existing apps will be banned. The Commerce Department is also banning any payment transactions through WeChat in the US.
“While the threats posed by WeChat and TikTok are not identical, they are similar,” Commerce Department secretary Wilbur Ross said in a press release. “Each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories. Each is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP. This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.”
Up until recently, it appeared that the TikTok ban would be avoided through potential deals between US-based companies Microsoft and Oracle. In early August, Microsoft announced that it was in discussions with ByteDance about taking over TikTok’s US operations. Microsoft execs said they’d complete the discussions no later than September 15.
But as the deadline approached, ByteDance said it would not include TikTok’s algorithm as part of the sale, according to a South China Morning Post report. The Chinese company also told Microsoft it would not be its new owner.
Then in stepped Oracle. In a statement last week, Oracle said:
Oracle confirms Secretary Mnuchin’s statement that it is part of the proposal submitted by ByteDance to the Treasury Department over the weekend in which Oracle will serve as the trusted technology provider. Oracle has a 40-year track record providing secure, highly performant technology solutions.
It remains to be seen whether a deal with Oracle is finalized before the Sept. 20 ban is actually implemented.