On Sunday for WeChat, and Nov. 12 for TikTok, the U.S. will ban any provision of internet hosting services that allow the apps to function in the U.S. And it will prohibit “any utilization of the mobile application’s constituent code, functions, or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible within the U.S.”
Trump administration bans WeChat, TikTok from app stores beginning on Sunday
The Trump administration said it is banning China’s TikTok and WeChat from mobile app stores beginning this Sunday, Sept. 20, in a move that will sharply raise tensions with Beijing.
The White House will take other action to curb WeChat’s use beginning Sunday, and will give TikTok until Nov. 12 until further bans kick in.
Western companies and bankers are still wrangling with TikTok’s owner, the White House and Chinese authorities to try to arrange a sale of some of TikTok’s business. TikTok has enjoyed explosive growth in the United States, where its users number in the tens of millions.
“Today’s 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,” U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “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.”
On Sunday, the U.S. will also ban the provision of services that enable WeChat to be used for money transfers or mobile payments.
And as of Sunday for WeChat, and Nov. 12 for TikTok, the U.S. will ban any provision of internet hosting services that allow the apps to function in the U.S. And it will prohibit “any utilization of the mobile application’s constituent code, functions, or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible within the U.S.”
“The President has provided until November 12 for the national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved. If they are, the prohibitions in this order may be lifted,” Commerce said in its statement.
TikTok declined to comment.
Tencent and Oracle did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Ross, in an interview on Fox Business Network on Friday morning, said that the ban would initially have a much greater impact on WeChat.
“For all practical purposes it will be shut down in the U.S., but only in the U.S., as of midnight Monday,” Mr. Ross said.
TikTok would also face some changes, but would still be allowed to function until Nov. 12, Mr. Ross said, at which point it would face the same ban as WeChat if there was no deal that satisfied the administration’s concerns.
“As to TikTok, the only real change as of Sunday night will be users won’t have access to improved updated apps, upgraded apps or maintenance,” he said.
The prohibitions raise the question of whether Google and Apple, the major operators of American app stores, could sue the administration.
Tech companies have made clear that they don’t like the idea of blocking apps without a more organized policy process, and have suggested that they see this as a First Amendment issue, said Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Segal said it was not entirely clear why the administration had chosen to go after these two Chinese services, and not other similar ones. “A lot of it just feels to me to be improvisational,” he said.
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Ross portrayed the threat from the apps in stark terms, likening it to a window between the U.S. and China that allows Beijing to peer into the everyday lives of Americans.
“What they collect are data on locality, data on what you are streaming toward, what your preferences are, what you are referencing, every bit of behavior that the American side is indulging in becomes available to whoever is watching on the other side,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to squelch.”
In its announcement, the Commerce Department said that both WeChat and TikTok collected information from their users including location data, network activity and browsing histories. As Chinese companies, they are also subject to China’s policy of “civil-military fusion” and mandatory cooperation with Chinese intelligence services, it said.
“It looks like it’s largely a continuation of the pressure tactics to get ByteDance to make a deal,” said James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “WeChat is sort of the human sacrifice of this deal. They’ve gone nuclear on them.”