Chinese applications TikTok and WeChat will not be able to be downloaded in the US from this Sunday.
The Commerce Department announced that as of September 20, the downloads of both applications will be prohibited in the country.
The only way that this does not happen is for President Donald Trump to approve in the next few hours the agreement reached a few days ago between Oracle and the Chinese ByteDance for the American company to become a partner of the owner of TikTok.
It is not yet clear whether President Trump will approve the deal, but he is expected to review it before Sunday.
The announcement of the ban on TikTok and WeChat follows an executive order issued by the White House in early August giving TikTok 45 days to sell its business to a US company.
WeChat, a multipurpose social network, will stop working in the US this Sunday.
TikTok, a video-sharing app, will remain available until November 12, when it could also be banned entirely. Users, however, will not be able to download updates.
The Trump administration alleges that TikTok and WeChat threaten national security and could turn over their users’ data to the Chinese government.
Both companies, however, deny these allegations.
While TikTok has millions of users in the US, it is unclear how many of WeChat’s 1 billion users are outside of China, although that is likely to be a significant number.
What is the reason for the ban?
“Under the leadership of the president, we have taken significant steps to combat the malicious collection of personal data of US citizens by China,” US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
The department acknowledged that the threats posed by WeChat and TikTok were not identical, but said that each collected “a large amount of user data, including network activity, location data, and search and browsing histories.” .
“The president has provided until November 12 for national security concerns arising from TikTok to be resolved,” the commerce department said.
The US government has repeatedly said that the apps are a threat because of their data collection.
Friday’s statement from the Commerce Department says the Chinese Communist Party “has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.”
President Trump has repeatedly criticized China since taking office, accusing Beijing of unfair business practices and theft of intellectual property.
ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, has denied having user data in China and says it is stored in the US.
For its part, Tencent, owner of WeChat, has said that the messages in its application are private.
Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ban order violates the rights of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.
“The order also hurts the privacy and security of millions of TikTok and WeChat users in the United States by blocking software updates, something that could correct vulnerabilities and make applications more secure,” Shamsi said.
“To truly address the privacy concerns raised by social media platforms, Congress must enact comprehensive surveillance reform and strong consumer data privacy legislation.”
How do TikTok and WeChat work?
TikTok is a video sharing application. Users can post up to one minute of video and have access to a huge database of songs and filters.
The app collects a large amount of user data, including the videos people watch and comment on, location data, phone model, and even how people type.
Much of this data collection is similar to other social networks such as Facebook.
It is believed to have more than 800 million users worldwide.
WeChat was created in 2011. It is a multipurpose application that allows users to send messages, make mobile payments and use local services. It has been described as an “app for everything” in China and has more than 1 billion monthly users.
Like all Chinese social media platforms, WeChat must censor content that the government deems illegal. In March, a report said that WeChat was censoring keywords about the coronavirus outbreak since January 1.
But WeChat insists that encryption means that others cannot “snoop” on your messages, and that content such as text, audio and images is not stored on its servers and is removed once all recipients have read them.