WeChat use, TikTok downloads in United States to be banned

The Trump administration announced on Friday it will ban China-linked TikTok and WeChat from US app stores on Sunday and will saddle the apps with technical restrictions that could severely limit their functionality in the country, a decision that comes weeks after India banned the apps amid a border standoff.

The two apps will not be available for downloads or upgrades from Google and Apple stores from Sunday, the US Commerce Department said in an order that cited national security and data privacy concerns.

TikTok expressed “disappointment” over the move and said it would continue to challenge President Donald Trump’s “unjust executive order”.

While restrictions on the use of WeChat come into effect on Sunday, similar curbs on TikTok aren’t applicable till November 12, ostensibly to give Oracle Corporation, a computer technology giant, sufficient time to wrap up negotiations to buy a minority stake of 20% in the US operations of the video-sharing app.

It means that users who already have TikTok will still be able to use the app after Sunday, but they will not be able to upgrade or download it as the order prohibits “any provision of service to distribute or maintain”. The axe will come down on it on November 12, with a complete shutdown, unless the app has an American partner.

The action is the Trump administration’s latest attempt to counter the influence of China. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and restricted the business of Chinese firms such as Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.

“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 US laws and regulations,” said US department of commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement.

The US targeted these Chinese apps in August through two presidential executive orders, saying they posed a threat to its national security. The country had earlier welcomed the ban India had enforced on Chinese apps, including TikTok and WeChat, along with 57 others following border clashes with the Chinese army; 118 more have since been added to the list by New Delhi.

President Trump’s August executive order had given TikTok 45 days to find an American buyer for its US operation or face closure. Microsoft first emerged as a top bidder but it has since backed out, leaving the field to Oracle, in partnership with Walmart.

Like most social networks, TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, collects user data and moderates users’ posts. Similar concerns apply to US-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but Chinese ownership adds an extra wrinkle because the Chinese government could demand cooperation from Chinese companies.

Friday’s order also bans financial transactions through WeChat, which has millions of users in the US and is widely used by American companies for marketing in China, where social media companies such as Facebook are banned. Additionally, US firms will not be allowed to provide internet hosting and cloud services for the app either.

(With agency inputs)

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