The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday it will ban Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat from U.S. app stores Sunday and will bar the apps from accessing essential internet services in the U.S. – a move that could effectively wreck the operation of both Chinese services for U.S. users.
TikTok won't face the most drastic sanctions until after the Nov. 3 election, but WeChat users could feel the effects as early as Sunday.
The order, which cited national security and data privacy concerns, follows weeks of dealmaking over the video-sharing service TikTok. President Donald Trump has pressured the app's Chinese owner to sell TikTok's U.S. operations to a domestic company to satisfy U.S. concerns over TikTok's data collection and related issues.
California tech giant Oracle recently struck a deal with TikTok along those lines, although details remain foggy and the administration is still reviewing it. Trump said Friday he was open to a deal, noting that “we have some great options and maybe we can keep a lot of people happy,” suggesting that even Microsoft, which said its TikTok bid had been rejected, might continue to be involved, as well as Oracle and Walmart.
Trump noted that TikTok was “very, very popular,” that “we have to have the total security from China,” and that “we can do a combination of both.”
The new order puts pressure on TikTok's owner, ByteDance, to make further concessions, said James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Trump had said this week that he does not like the idea of ByteDance keeping majority control of TikTok.
TikTok expressed “disappointment” over the move and said it would continue to challenge Trump's “unjust executive order.” The Commerce Department is enacting an order announced by Trump in August. TikTok sued to stop that ban.
TikTok says it does not store U.S. user data in China and that it would not give user data to the government, and does not censor videos per dictates from China.
WeChat owner Tencent said in an emailed statement that it will continue to discuss ways to address concerns with the government and look for long-term solutions. WeChat users have sued to stop the ban, and a federal judge in California on Friday set an emergency hearing for this afternoon.
The order requires WeChat, which has millions of U.S. users who rely on the app to stay in touch and conduct business with people and companies in China, to end payments through its service as of Sunday and prohibits it from getting technical services from vendors that could seriously impact its functions.
The action is the Trump administration's latest attempt to counter the influence of China, a rising economic superpower. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment.