President Trump, through the U.S. Department of Commerce, said both apps will be banned from being downloaded in America starting Sept. 20, less than two months after Trump first said he’d decided to ban the apps over vague concerns of national security.
In a statement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said all transactions on TikTok and WeChat, popular apps that are both based in China, will be prohibited. But a full ban of use for current users of TikTok will not go into effect until Nov. 12, but new downloads of the app will be prohibited starting Sunday. A full ban of WeChat will take place on that day as well. WeChat is less popular in the U.S. than it is in China, where most of its 1.2 billion users are, while TikTok has about 100 million daily users here.
Ross reiterated that the actions to ban the apps were aimed at protecting Americans and their data from the Chinese Communist Party, as well as promoting “aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.” Neither app has ever had a breach of data or a major public issue regarding use or handling of user data.
A TikTok spokeswoman said the company disagrees with Commerce’s decision and is “disappointed” that it’s app will be partially blocked this week.
“We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods,” she added.
TikTok, increasingly popular with the fashion industry and influencers, has not yet formally filed a lawsuit over the ban, but it has repeatedly alluded to one and some type of litigation is expected.
Ross’ statement went on to single out TikTok and WeChat for collecting “vast swaths of data from users,” as does every tech-based consumer company or app, and claimed that both companies are active participants in “China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP.”
Ross did note on a Friday morning appearance on Fox News that TikTok may be able to avoid a ban if ownership and operational changes in the works with Oracle take place before the November date in the Commerce decision.
“If there’s not a deal by Nov, 12, TikTok will be for all effective purposes shut down,” Ross said. From Sunday on, U.S. users will not have access to any updates on the app.
As for WeChat, which has been increasingly popular with retailers and brands in the U.S. trying to reach new consumers, “For all intents and purposes, it will be shut down midnight Sunday,” he said.
TikTok and its owner ByteDance have repeatedly denied sharing any user data with the Chinese government, and said they are not required to do so. Tencent, which owns WeChat, has said much the same.
Nevertheless, the company has moved forward with being essentially forced to sell part of its company to a U.S. operator. After Microsoft came in as the first major suitor, talks reportedly broke down when TikTok made it clear that it’s coveted algorithm wasn’t for sale. Then Oracle, owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, coincidentally one of Trump’s biggest campaign donors, came into the fray. Oracle now is reported to be set to take around a 20 percent stake in TikTok, becoming its “partner” for all operations in the U.S., including oversight of its data. Big box retailer Walmart is also said to be taking a minority stake, with chief executive Doug McMillan likely to get a seat on TikTok’s board.
The deal is subject to approval by Trump. A decision is expected as soon as today.
Interim head of TikTok, Vanessa Pappas, took to Twitter on Friday to say that the decision to ban the apps was bad for the tech industry on the whole, a sentiment largely shared by leaders in tech. Despite Mark Zuckerberg seeming to call out TikTok in his most recent appearance before U.S. lawmakers for a hearing on anti competition concerns, Pappas called for unity in the face of Trump’s ban.
“We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation,” she wrote. “This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law.”
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, also came out against the ban on Friday, tweeting: “The long term costs of countries making aggressive demands and banning us over the next decade outweigh slowing down one competitor today.”
He added that international users for consumers apps are key to growth. “Most of the people who use Instagram are outside the U.S., as is most of our potential growth.”