The Trump administration issued a sweeping ban Friday that will begin barring downloads and use of the Chinese-owned mobile apps WeChat and TikTok from U.S. app stores as of midnight Sunday. The announcement is the latest escalation in America’s tech fight with China.
Officials from the U.S. Commerce Department cited national security and data privacy concerns over the move to ban the two popular internet platforms that serve more than 100 million people in the United States.
Starting Monday, both apps will be removed from app stores and users will not be able to download the apps to their phones. For users who have the apps already installed, they will not be able to receive updates to the platforms. This restriction will quickly make the app obsolete on smartphones, as the inability to update will make it incompatible with Apple and Google smartphone software, which currently dominate the tech market.
The order includes moves to render WeChat useless within the United States by banning American companies from hosting internet traffic or processing transactions from within the app as of midnight Sunday.
WeChat serves millions of U.S. users who predominantly rely on the app to stay in touch and conduct business with people and companies in China.
Like most social networking sites, both TikTok and WeChat collect user data, including location and messages to track what kind of targeted ad content is most applicable to them.
As of now, TikTok will escape the most drastic sanctions until similar restrictions go into effect November 12 unless the company is able to resolve the administration's national security concerns by the deadline. The order follows weeks of wrangling with the company, which recently struck a deal with U.S.-based software maker Oracle, the details of which have yet to be announced.
The app, which has become especially popular among younger users, has proved useful in some political contexts, including for mischief.
TikTok users made headlines earlier this year by working to inflate the expected turnout for a rally President Donald Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma — and making the actual attendance seem especially low by comparison.
The deadline to comply with restrictions falls just after the November 3 presidential election in the United States.
Prior to striking the deal, representatives of TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, were in talks with Microsoft. The partnership between Microsoft and ByteDance fell through earlier this month after reports estimated that the company would shell out up to $30 billion for the acquisition of the app.
“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” Microsoft said in a blog post Sunday. “We would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety and combating disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement.”
The move to ban the use of the apps in the United States follows an August 6 executive order by Trump, in which he argued that TikTok and WeChat collect data from American users that could be accessed by the Chinese government. Over the past several weeks, Trump has pressured the app’s owner to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations to a domestic company to satisfy these concerns.
TikTok spokesman John Gartner said in a statement that the company is “disappointed” by the move and that it would continue to challenge the “unjust executive order.”
The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the move as well, saying that the order is an infringement on Americans’ rights to free expression.
While the Trump administration has accused the apps of collecting data used by the Chinese government to surveil Americans, the government has not provided specific evidence to support the allegations.
ByteDance has repeatedly denied that it has partnered with the Chinese government to siphon U.S. user information.