The Commerce Department on Friday issued a sweeping order banning any transactions on TikTok and WeChat in the U.S., saying the Chinese-owned apps create “unacceptable risks to our national security.”
Starting Monday, TikTok and WeChat will be banned from app stores. That means users will not be able to download the apps or receive updates if already installed.
Users of WeChat, a messaging and payments service, will see even more drastic changes on Monday. The order requires the app to halt payments as of Sunday and prohibits it from getting technical services from vendors. WeChat has millions of U.S. users who rely on it to communicate and do business with people and companies in China.
“For all practical purposes it will be shut down in the U.S., but only in the U.S., as of midnight on Monday,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network on Friday.
TikTok has until November 12 to reach a deal that would satisfy government concerns over its Chinese ownership and data privacy. After that date, it would effectively stop functioning in the U.S., when a prohibition on serving data to the app would take effect. The company says it has 100 million users in the U.S., and 700 million worldwide.
TikTok vowed to challenge the ban, which it called “unjust.” The company hasover the president’s August executive order banning the app. Vanessa Pappas, who oversees TikTok’s North America business, called on other tech companies to “put aside our competition” and support TikTok’s suit in the interests of free expression.
WeChat’s owner, Tencent, told the Associated Press in a statement that it would “continue to discuss ways to address concerns with the government and look for long-term solutions.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also denounced the Commerce Department’s move, saying it violated people’s First Amendment rights.
The order seeks to “combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data,” the Commerce Department said in a news release. The administration has long called the apps, including TikTok, a national security threat, accusing them of working with the Chinese government to surveil Americans.
However, the government has not provided specific evidence of this charge. On a call with reporters, senior Commerce officials declined to offer particulars of data from TikTok being siphoned, instead referring to China’s surveillance of Chinese citizens and the idea that Chinese companies feel compelled to cooperate with the government.
TikTok, like most social networks, collects user data and moderates users’ posts. It grabs users’ locations and messages and tracks what they watch to figure out how best to target ads to them, the AP reports. The company’s owner, Chinese company ByteDance, has repeatedlythat it has shared user information with the Chinese government, or that it would do so.
Deadline for a deal
TikTok will remain usable until November 12, at which point restrictions on internet service providers kick in and the app would become essentially unusable. The order creates new pressure for TikTok’s owner ByteDance to close a deal to sell its U.S. assets, to comply with an August executive order.
California software giant Oracle recently struck a deal with TikTok along those lines, although it is unclear if the arrangement would pass muster with the Trump administration. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox Business Network on Friday that the administration is still “negotiating and looking at the proposal.”
In confirming it was, Oracle didn’t refer to the deal as a sale or acquisition, instead saying it was chosen as TikTok’s “trusted technology provider.” It’s unclear at this point what assets, if any, Oracle would actually acquire.
“We continue to believe this is a game of high stakes poker, and this move put sharp teeth into threats by the Trump administration around the TikTok and WeChat bans,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.
Cold war over tech
The action is the Trump administration’s latest attempt to counter the influence of China, a rising economic superpower, the AP notes. Since taking office in 2017, the president has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.
Nicholas Weaver, a computer science lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, told the wire service that the order suggested “the U.S. is not to be trusted and not a friendly place for business.”
China-backed hackers, meanwhile, have been blamed for data breaches of U.S. federal databases and the credit agency Equifax. The Department of Justice has charged four members of the Chinese military for allegedly hacking Equifax’s systems in .
The Chinese government also strictly limits what U.S. tech companies can do in China, and has recently indicated any deal involving ByteDance would require government approval.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.