(Reuters) – The Trump administration will ban WeChat and the video sharing app TikTok from US app stores starting Sunday evening. This will prevent Americans from downloading the Chinese-owned platforms because they pose a national security threat.
Current TikTok users are unlikely to see any change on Sunday, and U.S. Commerce Department officials said they would not block additional tech transactions for TikTok until Nov. 12, giving the company time to consider whether owner ByteDance can come to an agreement on fate of its US operations.
“The basic TikTok will remain intact through November 12th,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network on Friday.
President Donald Trump could lift the ban on new US downloads of the popular app before it goes into effect.
ByteDance has spoken to Oracle and others about creating a new company, TikTok Global, to address US concerns about the security of its users’ data.
But ByteDance still needs Trump’s approval to fend off a US ban.
The Department of Commerce order bans Apple’s App Store, Alphabet’s Google Play, and others from offering the apps on any platform “accessible from the US,” a senior trade official told Reuters.
The department said the measures would “protect users in the United States by blocking access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality”.
Oracle shares fell 1.6% on the news in premarket trading.
The order does not prohibit US companies from doing business with WeChat outside of the US. This is welcome news for US firms like Walmart and Starbucks who are using WeChat’s embedded “mini-app” programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China.
The order does not exclude transactions with other companies owned by WeChat, Tencent Holdings, including online gaming activities, and does not prevent Apple, Google or any other company from offering TikTok or WeChat apps outside of the United States.
The bans are in response to two executive orders issued by Trump on Aug. 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine which transactions should be blocked by the apps Trump viewed as a national security threat. This period ends on Sunday.
Commerce Department officials said they made the extraordinary move because of the risks posed by the apps’ data collection. China and the companies have denied that US user data is being collected for espionage.
Ross said in a written statement, “We have taken significant steps to combat China’s malicious collection of personal information from American citizens while promoting our national values, rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of US laws and regulations.”
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Trump administration has stepped up efforts to remove “untrustworthy” Chinese apps from US digital networks, calling TikTok and WeChat “significant threats”.
TikTok has 100 million users in the US and is especially popular with younger Americans.
WeChat had an average of 19 million daily active users in the US, analytics firm Apptopia announced in early August. It is popular with Chinese students, ex-pats, and some Americans who have personal or business connections in China.
WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines similar services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of everyday life for many in China and has more than 1 billion users.
The Department of Commerce will not try to force people in the US to remove or stop using the apps, but will not allow updates or new downloads. “We are aiming for a top corporate level. We’re not going to go after each user, ”said a commerce official.
Over time, the authorities said, the lack of updates will affect the usability of the apps.
“The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to carry out these measures,” said a senior official. “We expect the market to act, and there will be safer apps that fill those gaps that Americans can trust and that the US government doesn’t need to take similar action against.”
Commerce is excluding additional technical transactions with WeChat starting Sunday, which significantly affect the usability and functionality of the app in the United States.
The order blocks the hosting of data in the USA for WeChat, content delivery services and networks, which can improve the functionality and the internet transit or peering service.
“What will happen immediately is that users will experience a delay or lack of functionality,” a senior trade official said of WeChat users. “It can still be used, but it won’t be as functional as it was.” There could also be sporadic failures, the official said.
Commerce will lock the same technical transactions on TikTok, but these won’t take effect until November 12th to give the company additional time to review if ByteDance can get a deal on its US operations. The official said TikTok US users would not see a “big difference” in the app’s performance until Nov. 12.
The trade won’t penalize people who use TikTok or WeChat in the US.
The order does not block data storage in the USA for WeChat or TikTok.
Some Americans may find workarounds. There’s nothing stopping an American from traveling to a foreign country and either downloading an app or possibly using a virtual private network and desktop client, officials admitted.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, editing by Chris Sanders, Lincoln Feast, and Carmel Crimmins.)