The US Department of Commerce has announced that it would be prohibiting TikTok and WeChat from being available on app stores in the country from September 20 (Sunday). This means both the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store will have to remove the apps from their library. Additionally, US companies have been prohibited from using WeChat for the purpose of “transferring funds or processing payments within the US”.
The development comes even as the US government is yet to announce whether or not it will approve Oracle’s tie-up with TikTok as a “trusted technology partner”.
The order prescribes different timelines for both apps. Come November 12, internet hosting services or content delivery network services that enable the functioning of TikTok will be prohibited. This could mean that the Oracle deal, which reportedly involves the company to offer cloud services to TikTok, could fall through (more on this below). Similar restrictions have been placed on WeChat, but from September 20.
Furthermore, the order also prohibited the use of WeChat’s “constituent code, functions, or services” from September 20, and those of TikTok from November 12. In essence, any software or service used within the US cannot use the company’s services.
In a statement, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that the prohibitions were being imposed to “safeguard the national security” of the United States. He said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had used these apps to threaten US national security, foreign relations and its economy.
Ross noted that the “threats” posed by WeChat and TikTok were not identical, however they were still “similar”. “Each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories. Each is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP.”
What led to this?
On August 6, Trump signed an executive order prohibiting all US transactions with Tiktok and WeChat within 45 days, with the deadline on September 20. On August 14, he signed another order giving TikTok another 45 days to divest from its American assets and user data gathered by it in the country, with a deadline on November 12.
Over the subsequent weeks, multiple companies were reported to be be interesting in buying TikTok’s’s US operations, including Microsoft. Last week, it was reported that Oracle had secured a deal with TikTok as a “trusted tech partner”. According to a CNN report, TikTok would make US its global headquarters, with ByteDance still being its majority shareholder and Oracle would host TikTok’s user data. The deal has still not received the Trump’s approval.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, the US Department of Commerce had said that WeChat users in the country who download the app for personal or business communications would not be affected by the executive order that prohibits transactions with WeChat.
It is yet unclear whether the latest order means an end of the road for WeChat, or whether Oracle’s deal with ByteDance is dead in the water.
Both apps banned in India
Chinese apps have been under scrutiny in India as well due to national security concerns. Here, both WeChat and TikTok were banned in June, in the first round of Chinese apps to be banned in the country, after a border clash with Chinese troops. The block was ordered in the “interest of sovereignty and integrity of India”. So far a total of 224 Chinese apps have been banned in the country, with the latest batch being banned earlier this month, which included video game PUBG Mobile.