US NEWS

Trump bans TikTok and WeChat: why and what effect will it have?

Beginning on Sunday night, the President of the United States will ban video-sharing app TikTok from US app stores, blocking Americans from downloading or updating.

Trump prohíbe TikTok y WeChat: ¿por qué y cuándo empieza la prohibición? 
NICOLAS ASFOURI AFP

The US Commerce Department said it will issue an order Friday that will bar people in the United States from downloading Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok starting on 20 September.

TikTok banned by Trump admin

Commerce officials said the ban on new US downloads of TikTok could be still rescinded by President Donald Trump before it takes effect late Sunday as TikTok owner ByteDance races to clinch an agreement over the fate of its US operations.

ByteDance has been talks with Oracle Corp and others to create a new company, TikTok Global, that aims to address US concerns about the security of its users' data. ByteDance still needs Trump's approval to stave off a US ban.

Commerce officials said they will not bar additional technical transactions for TikTok until Nov. 12, which gives the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. "The basic TikTok will stay intact until Nov. 12," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network.

The department said the actions will "protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality."

US President Donald Trump, TikTok, WeChat

Oracle shares fell 1.6% after the news in pre-market trading

The Commerce Department order will "deplatform" the two apps in the United States and bar Apple Inc's app store, Alphabet Inc's Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform "that can be reached from within the United States," a senior Commerce official told Reuters.

The order will not ban U.S. companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to U.S. firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat's embedded 'mini-app' programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.

The order will not bar transactions with WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings' other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the United States.

The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on August 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.

Commerce Department officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps' data collection poses. China and the companies have denied U.S. user data is collected for spying.

Ross said in a written statement "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."

The order is set to be published at 08:45 EDT (1245 GMT) on Friday, Commerce said.

Popular apps

The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted" Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and has called TikTok and WeChat “significant threats.”

TikTok has 100 million users in the United States and is especially popular among younger Americans.

WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.

The Commerce Department will not seek to compel people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them but will not allow updates or new downloads. "We are aiming at a top corporate level. We're not going to go out after the individual users," one Commerce official said.

A Beijing restaurant promotes TikTok

Over time, officials said, the lack of updates will degrade the apps usability.

"The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to do these actions," a senior official said. "We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States government won't have to take similar actions against."

Commerce is also barring additional technical transactions with WeChat starting Sunday that will significantly reduce the usability and functionality of the app in the United States.

The order bars data hosting within the United States for WeChat, content delivery services and networks that can increase functionality and internet transit or peering services.

"What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality," a senior Commerce official said of WeChat users. "It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was." There may be sporadic outages as well, the official said.

Commerce will bar the same set of technical transactions for TikTok, but that will not take effect until Nov. 12 to give the company additional time to see if ByteDance can reach a deal for its U.S. operations. The official said TikTok U.S. users would not see "a major difference" in the app's performance until Nov. 12.

Commerce will not penalize people who use TikTok or WeChat in the United States.

The order does not bar data storage within the United States for WeChat or TikTok.

Some Americans may find workarounds. There is nothing that would bar an American from traveling to a foreign country and downloading either app, or potentially using a virtual private network and a desktop client, officials conceded.

Questions & Answers on Trump's TikTok decision

Below are questions and answers on what this means for users, the political implications and how this will impact the companies involved.

Will current TikTok users see an immediate impact?

Initially, not much. They will not be able to download updates and may miss new features and fixes. But on Nov. 12, the app could become slower or harder to use because American companies will be barred from providing back-end hosting services that help the app function smoothly. TikTok said in a statement Friday those changes would amount to a "ban."

How will new TikTok users be affected?

beginning sunday, the app will no longer be available for download from app stores in the united states, greatly reducing the number of new u.s. users. some may find workarounds, such as traveling to a foreign country to download the app or using a virtual private network, a u.s. official said. users could also still sign up and watch videos via tiktok's website, but they will not be able to post videos without the mobile application.

What are the political implications of the TikTok ban?

tiktok will not see major changes until after the election, so the issue's influence on the presidential race is unlikely to grow significantly. president donald trump could still be seen by some as defending u.s. interests by threatening to ban a chinese app, and some may see him as avoiding a decision or arranging a deal for a political ally, in oracle chair larry ellison.

What does this mean for oracle's deal to partner with tiktok?

The ban will ramp up pressure on TikTok's owner ByteDance and potential suitors including Oracle Corp and Walmart to put together a deal that is agreeable to President Trump as soon as possible. If a deal is reached before Sunday, there is a chance new downloads will not be blocked and that TikTok can go about its business.