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, senior Commerce Department officials said. Users will not be able to download the apps to their phones, and those who have them already installed will not be able to receive updates.
The government is also banning U.S. entities from hosting data for WeChat and from sending money or processing payments using the app. That rule makes the app essentially unusable in the U.S., because it bars U.S.-based internet service providers from interacting with the app.
“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 vowed to challenge the ban, which it called “unjust.” The American Civil Liberties Union also denounced the order as an infringement on Americans’ rights to free expression.
NEW: TikTok says it will challenge the U.S. gov imposed ban this morning, calls it “unjust” pic.twitter.com/qGI3P8syO7
— Alex Heath (@alexeheath) September 18, 2020
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 Associated Press reports.
The company’s owner, Chinese company ByteDance, has repeatedly denied that 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 under the order. At that point it will become largely non-functional as restrictions on internet service providers kick in. The order creates new pressure for TikTok’s owner to close a deal to sell its U.S. assets, to comply with an August executive order.
ByteDance has sought to negotiate a partnership with California tech giant Oracle to comply with a previous executive order that required the company to sell its U.S. assets. Details of that deal remain sketchy. In confirming it was the winning bidder Monday, 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.