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US issues order banning TikTok, WeChat downloads

September 18, 2020

The Trump administration issued orders severely limiting the operations of the Chinese social media apps in the US. Downloads of the apps will be banned starting Sunday. TikTok has more than 100 million users in the US.

Tik Tok
Image: picture-alliance/F. May

The US Department of Commerce on Friday effectively banned the Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat, by introducing "prohibitions" designed to "reduce their functionality" in the US. 

The US claims that the popular social media companies are sharing user data with the Chinese intelligence services, and present a threat to the "national security, foreign policy, and economy" of the United States.

According to the company, the US is one of TikTok's most important markets, with over 100 million monthly users.

What is in the new regulations?

  • According to the US Department of Commerce, Washington will bar people in the US from downloading TikTok or WeChat starting on Sunday, September 20.
  • Authorities will not force current US users of TikTok or WeChat to stop using the apps, however, they will not be allowed to install updates.
  • US tech giants Google or Apple will not be barred from offering TikTok or WeChat to users outside the US.
  • WeChat's payment services will be barred from processing payments within the US.

Read more:  The future of TikTok after CEO Kevin Mayer resigns

'Threat to national security'

The restrictions were first announced on August 6 in an executive order by US President Donald Trump targeting the companies' operations. At the time, he said it would take effect within 45 days. 

"We have taken significant action to combat China's malicious collection of American citizens' personal data," US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a press release on Friday. 

TikTok dubs order 'unjust'

TikTok expressed "disappointment" over the move and said it would continue to challenge Trump's "unjust executive order."

WeChat owner Tencent said in an emailed statement that it will continue to discuss ways to address concerns with the government and look for long-term solutions.

Google and Apple, the owners of the major mobile app stores, did not immediately reply to questions. Oracle also did not reply.

Ongoing legal battle

In August, TikTok filed a federal court complaint in the US against Trump's order saying it was "issued without due process" and risked "undermining global businesses' trust in the United States' commitment to the rule of law."

"We have made clear that TikTok has never shared user data with the Chinese government nor censored content at its request," the company said in an August press release.

TikTok's CEO, global chief security officer and general counsel are all Americans based in the US, and "are not subject to Chinese law," according to the complaint filed in court.

Oracle data deal enough to placate US?

TikTok could still avoid being shut down in the US if its Chinese parent company, Byte Dance, sells off its US operations to a US company. 

On Monday, Byte Dance said it would seek a deal with US tech company Oracle Corp after the Chinese company rejected a bid by Microsoft. 

However, the deal wouldn't be a buyout, but rather a restructuring, with Oracle storing user data in US-based servers as a "trusted technology provider.'' The White House and Chinese authorities in Beijing have yet to approve Byte Dance's proposal. 

But on Friday, shortly after his administration ordered the TikTok download ban, Trump said he expected an agreement soon: "I think it could go quickly. We have great companies talking to us about it."

Read more:  Oracle picked over Microsoft for TikTok's US operations: Report

According to the Department of Commerce, certain technical operations for TikTok in the US, such as internet hosting services enabling app function, will still be allowed until November 12.

kmm, wmr/msh (Reuters, AP)