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US downloads of TikTok and WeChat to Be Banned on Sunday

The US Department of Commerce will ban the download of TikTok and WeChat in the US from this Sunday (via Reuters).

The US Department of Commerce plans to issue an order today that will “de-platform” WeChat and TikTok by banning people in the US from downloading the apps. The order takes effect on Sunday 20 September.

U.S. government officials speak to Reuters said the ban on TikTok downloads could still be lifted before it takes effect late on Sunday, provided TikTok owner ByteDance can agree on a deal to sell its US business.

Ministry of Trade officials said they were taking the unique step of banning the apps because of the risk of their data collection practices and Chinese ownership. ByteDance and WeChat owner Tencent Holdings have repeatedly denied that US data collection is used for espionage.

“We have taken important steps to combat China’s malicious collection of US citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rule-based norms and aggressive enforcement of US laws and regulations,” said Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross.

ByteDance has been in serious talks with the US cloud computing company Oracle for some time, and proposed an agreement to form a new company called “TikTok Global”, to meet US security concerns. ByteDance still requires the approval of President Donald Trump to accept an agreement and prevent a ban, and it is doubtful whether agreement will be reached.

All domestic app stores, including the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, will be forced to remove both apps on any platform “accessible from the United States.” Other apps from ByteDance and Tencent, such as games, will still be available during this order.

The order will only ban the apps in the US, and US companies, such as Walmart and Starbucks, will still be able to operate using TikTok and WeChat outside the US as they currently do.

The Department of Commerce also said it would not seek to force people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them, but it would ban further updates or new downloads. A trading employee said: “We aim for a top company level. We will not go after the individual users.”

The order will also block “additional technical transactions”, “content delivery services”, “peering services” and data hosting in the US, which means that the apps are useful and functional for those who already have them in the US, significantly degraded. For TikTok, to give more time to secure an agreement, the breakdown in existing service will not take place until 12 November.

It is unclear whether the news from U.S. Department of Commerce officials is intended to serve as a warning shot to expedite a TikTok deal with Oracle, or if the White House, dissatisfied with Oracle’s proposal, really seeks to ban TikTok directly. WeChat is not considered for an acquisition agreement and can therefore not avoid the ban.

President Trump originally issued an executive order on August 6 that gave the Department of Commerce 45 days to decide which apps posed a national security threat. This is why the ban will take effect on Sunday. Today’s new order is set to be published in full at 08.45 EDT.

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