The Trump administration announced on Friday that it will stop allowing downloads of WeChat and the wildly popular TikTok, two Chinese-owned apps, beginning on Sunday. The restrictions amount to a major escalation against China, which the White House has accused of working in league with the country’s tech companies to steal users’ data and promote propaganda. WeChat and TikTok are used by a combined 100 million Americans.
“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.
Though the administration is restricting app-store access to both services beginning on Sunday, its treatment of WeChat is much more restrictive; it appears that the app will simply not be available for any American to use beginning on Monday. WeChat serves as an all-purpose life tool in China — hundreds of millions of people use it to text, buy groceries, and book flights, among many other functions. In the U.S., many Chinese Americans use it as a way to communicate with and send money to relatives back home. As of Sunday, financial transactions within WeChat will be banned in the U.S., and American companies will not be allowed to host the app.
TikTok, meanwhile, is not going away just yet. The app, which has taken Gen Z by storm in the last couple of years, will operate until November 12 — nine days after the presidential election — at which point it will shut down if it does not find a new buyer or partner. In August, the administration declared it a national security threat, and later said it would require TikTok to find an American buyer if the company wanted to keep functioning in the U.S. After an extended sweepstakes, Oracle — run by the Trump-supporting billionaire Larry Ellison — has emerged as the most likely winner, though the company would only acquire a limited stake in TikTok. The prospective Oracle-Tiktok deal has raised plenty of criticism for its appearance of cronyism, and for its failure to address the underlying security problems the Trump administration had identified. Still, even if that arrangement is scuttled, almost two months remain to find another solution — one that doesn’t leave millions of dancing teens in the lurch.