The Trump administration will ban the Chinese-owned mobile apps WeChat and TikTok from US app stores on Sunday, striking a huge blow against the two services, which are used by more than 100 million Americans.
The United States has ordered a ban on downloads of popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok and use of the messaging and payment platform WeChat, saying they threaten national security.
The move, which was announced on Friday (local time) and will be implemented on Sunday, comes amid rising US-China tensions and efforts by the Trump administration to engineer a sale of TikTok to American investors.
“The Chinese Communist Party has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
The initiative would ban WeChat, an app with massive use among Chinese speakers, and TikTok from the online marketplaces operated by Apple and Google.
But while WeChat will effectively be shut down from Sunday in the US, existing TikTok user will be able to continue using the app until November 12 — when it would also face a full ban on its US operations.
But the Commerce Department said if national security concerns over TikTok were resolved before then, the order may be lifted.
TikTok’s brand of brief, quirky videos made on users’ cellphones has become hugely popular, especially among young people.
“We disagree with the decision from the Commerce Department, and are disappointed that it stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the US from November 12,” TikTok’s Claire Robinson told News Corp Australia.
Ms Robinson said TikTok was “a home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection, and we’re committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform”.
TikTok currently has 100 million users in the US.
Vanessa Pappas, the Australian-born CEO of TikTok’s US operations, called on Facebook and Instagram to join any potential litigation against the move.
“We agree that this type of ban would be bad for the industry. We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation. This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law.”
The plan follows through on a threat by US President Donald Trump, who has claimed Chinese tech operations may be used for spying, and it ramps up the pressure on TikTok parent ByteDance to conclude a deal to sell all or part of TikTok to allay US security concerns.
A deal which appeared to be taking shape would allow Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become the tech partner for TikTok, but some US politicians have objected to allowing ByteDance to keep a stake.
The ban on WeChat, owned by Chinese giant Tencent, has the potential for disrupting the widely used social media and financial application.
US officials said in a recent court filing they would not target those using WeChat for ordinary personal communications.
“In our proposal to the US Administration, 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,” Ms Robinson said.
“Further, an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the US, which would include all services and data serving US consumers. We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods.”