The Trump administration issued new rules today to ban two popular apps owned by Chinese-held companies, TikTok and WeChat, from U.S. app stores starting Sunday; as a result, consumers in the United States will no longer be able to download the apps from app stores on mobile devices.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) announced that these prohibitions were in response to the President’s Executive Orders prohibiting transactions with TikTok and WeChat in order to protect American national security. The Department said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) threatens U.S. national security, foreign policy, and economy through these apps because each app “collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories.” Furthermore, the Department of Justice alleged “(e)ach is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP.” As a result, the DOC felt that “(t)his combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.”
U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said “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.”
Beginning Sunday, September 20, both apps will be banned from app updates, upgrades, or maintenance on any app store in the United States. Additionally, WeChat users will also be unable to transfer funds or process payments within the United States.
The DOC stated that on September 20, 2020, for WeChat and November 12, 2020, for TikTok the following actions will be banned:
· “Any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.”;
· “Any provision of content delivery network services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.”;
· “Any provision directly contracted or arranged internet transit or peering services enabling the function or optimization of the mobile application within the U.S.”;
· “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.”
According to the DOC, President Trump has required that national security concerns surrounding TikTok be resolved by November 12; if the concerns are resolved by then these prohibitions might be lifted. As per the Executive Order, the DOC had 45 days to identify transactions to protect national security interest and the data of Americans, which was set to expire on September 20, when the ban takes effect.
Today’s prohibition is a dramatic step against the two apps, which have more than 100 million users in the United States. The Trump administration was sued in August by both WeChat users and TikTok for the executive orders that banned “transactions” with the apps. This announcement also comes after Oracle won a bid to be TikTok’s “trusted technology provider” after the administration sought for an American company to acquire TikTok’s U.S. operations. Others raised concerns that the Oracle deal would not fully resolve national security concerns. The Oracle-TikTok agreement is still under review.
“We’ve already committed to unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and US government oversight of US data security,” TikTok said in a statement. “We will continue to challenge the executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods.”