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US to ban TikTok downloads from Sunday

James Cook
·3 mins read
The TikTok and WeChat logos on smartphones
The TikTok and WeChat logos on smartphones

The Trump administration is banning all new downloads of TikTok in the US on Sunday night, claiming that the Chinese app poses a national security threat.

It will block Google and Apple from distributing TikTok and another popular Chinese app, WeChat, to phones across the US. Those who have the app installed on their phone will not get access to updates, including security maintenance. 

A full ban may be imposed by November 12, if the app fails to strike a deal with an American buyer that alleviates concerns held by the Commerce Department.

TikTok, which is currently in crunch talks with American technology giant Oracle, said it would fight the ban and described the announcement as "disappointing". 

“We’ve already committed to unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and US government oversight of US data security," a spokesman said. 

Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's general manager and former Google executive, called on rivals Facebook and Instagram to challenge the order after Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram said that a US TikTok ban would be "quite bad for Instagram, Facebook, and the internet more broadly". 

"We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation," Miss Pappas said. "This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law."

The Commerce Department on Friday accused both WeChat and TikTok of being "active participants in China’s civil-military fusion." It said that they collect "vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories."

Friday's announcement included greater restrictions on WeChat than on TikTok, which effectively throttle its service. This includes blocking data hosting and content caching, which makes the app slower and difficult to use. While WeChat will still be technically usable, most users will struggle to communicate on the app after Sunday night. It is likely that the same restrictions will be imposed upon TikTok if a deal is not worked out before the November deadline. 

A WeChat spokesman said: "The restrictions announced today are unfortunate, but given our desire to provide ongoing services to our users in the US - for whom WeChat is an important communication tool - we will continue to discuss with the government and other stakeholders in the US ways to achieve a long-term solution."

The American Civil Liberties Union said the order was a violation of American's First Amendment rights and "harms the privacy and security of millions of existing TikTok and WeChat users in the United States by blocking software updates, which can fix vulnerabilities and make the apps more secure".

Wilbur Ross, US Commerce Secretary, said: "Today’s actions prove once again that President Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee our national security and protect Americans from the threats of the Chinese Communist Party.

"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 US laws and regulations.”

Microsoft had planned to purchase the company's US operations, but Oracle emerged last week as the leading contender to partner with TikTok to ease regulatory concerns.

President Donald Trump has tried to engineer a sale of TikTok to American investors, stating that the treasury should get a cut of the deal. 

Spokesmen from Apple and Google did not respond to a request for comment.