The popular social media sites TikTok and WeChat will no longer be available from U.S. app stores beginning on Sunday, the Commerce Department will announce on Friday.
The two apps are owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that U.S. intelligence believes has ties to the Chinese Communist government, endangering the personal data from users of those two apps. ByteDance says that data can’t be accessed by the Chinese government, but the Trump administration disagrees. Trump ordered ByteDance to spin off its U.S. operations.
U.S. software giant Oracle and others have been in talks with TikTok to effect the sale but there’s no sign of an imminent breakthrough. The Commerce Department says there’s still time to avoid deplatforming the apps if a deal can be reached and Trump agrees.
The Commerce Department order will “deplatform” the two apps in the United States and bar Apple Inc’s app store, Alphabet Inc’s Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform “that can be reached from within the United States,” a senior Commerce official told Reuters.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made public.
The order will not ban U.S. companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to U.S. firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded ‘mini-app’ programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China.
To be sure, this isn’t about social media apps. It’s about the U.S. vs. China. Many cybersecurity experts claim the administration’s concern about TikTok’s vulnerability to be overblown. That was never really the point anyway.
It’s about U.S. vs. China and Donald Trump vs. Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The order will not bar transactions with WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings’ other businesses, including its online gaming operations and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the United States.
The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on Aug. 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.
Commerce says that there will be no attempt to target individuals to delete the apps but there will be no new updates or downloads allowed.
“The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to do these actions,” a senior official said. “We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States government won’t have to take similar actions against.”
The Chinese Communist government has been staying out of this squabble for the most part but there is a genuine fear that they might retaliate in some way if the ban goes through. But there’s not much they can do. There’s no obvious answer for them, which makes the apps a soft target for U.S. pressure.
Beijing will likely say mean things about the United States and Trump if the ban takes effect but beyond that, they will have to take their revenge in a more subtle way.