US Bans WeChat, Prohibits New Downloads of TikTok; What's Next?

Instant messaging and payment app WeChat will complete shutdown in the U.S. from September 21 while TikTok will not be available for new downloads and updates

Popular instant messaging app WeChat will be banned while popular short-video app TikTok will not be available for new downloads in the U.S. from Sunday, September 20 due to national security concerns, the Department of Commerce announced Friday.

The U.S. President Donald Trump had issued two executive orders in August, warning that the apps would be banned if they did not sell them to American companies within 45 days (until September 20). Trump said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was collecting personal data on Americans through the apps to "threaten the national security, foreign policy and the economy of the U.S."

"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," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

TikTok and WeChat
Popular Chinese app WeChat will be banned in the U.S. from September 21 while TikTok will be removed from app stores Pixabay L/ Reuters

What Does It Mean?

Friday's announcement means that WeChat will be removed from various app stores in the U.S. including Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store from Monday while the existing users will not be able to access the app anymore. WeChat was mainly used for transactions with Chinese companies in China while it also served as an instant messaging app.

However, for TikTok, it's not a straightforward ban like it was the case in India in July. The app will not be available for new downloads and any transaction with the app has been banned. But existing users will continue to use the app till November 12. But around 100 million U.S. users will not have access to improved versions of the app, meaning there will be no updates or maintenance from Monday, Ross said.

By that deadline, TikTok will have to sell its U.S. operations to an American company. While TikTok maintained that it did not collect users' personal information, the owner of the app ByteDance faced an uphill task in keeping the U.S. market after it was banned in India in July. Microsoft, Walmart and eventually Oracle seemed to be interested in buying the U.S. business.

However, the deal with Oracle got complicated with the Chinese government prohibiting its companies to sell artificial intelligence algorithms. TikTok's feed is a result of its artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithm. It meant that Oracle could only be a business partner of TikTok and not the sole owner of its U.S. operations.

Experts have raised questions that Oracle would only be TikTok's "trusted tech provider" in the U.S. while ByteDance will continue to have access to user information and would not solve the "national security concerns." Hence, to eke out the complications of the potential deal, discussions are ongoing. Ross told Fox Business in an interview that "the basic TikTok will stay intact until November 12."

If an agreement is not reached by November 12, the U.S. will follow India in imposing a full-scale ban on TikTok. That would essentially wipe out over half of its business as India had nearly done away with its 300 million TikTok users in the country.

Related topics : Cybersecurity