President makes good on his threats to ban popular apps, will China retaliate?
TikTok and WeChat will be banned from app stores in America from Sunday as the US Government takes another step in what it describes as a clampdown on China’s “malicious collection” of personal data.
The new measures announced by the Department of Commerce mean that as of Sunday, September 20 it will be illegal to distribute or update the two apps through online stores such as Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
“Each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories. Each is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP. This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security” the Department said.
Further sanctions are also being introduced for Tencent-backed WeChat on Sunday, and will come into force for TikTok in November.
The move follows President Donald Trump’s executive order, issued on August 6, to ban TikTok in the US. He gave the company 45 days to find a domestic owner for its platform, and that period comes to an end on Sunday.
As reported by Computer Business Review, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is in talks with Oracle over a partnership that could help it get round the ban. These talks, announced on Monday, could explain why the video-sharing platform has been given extra time before the second batch of restrictions kick in.
If agreed, the partnership Oracle would manage TikTok US data, as well as taking a stake in its State-side operations. It’s unclear whether this will be enough to get Trump’s blessing.
What the Restrictions Mean for TikTok, WeChat
Announcing the news, US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said: “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 U.S. laws and regulations.”
The initial measures block TikTok and WeChat from appearing in app stores, and also ban the transfer of funds and processing of payments relating to the apps in the US.
WeChat faces a further list of banned transactions, which will apply to TikTok from November 15:
As of September 20, 2020, for WeChat and as of November 12, 2020, for TikTok, the following transactions are prohibited:
- Any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.;
- Any provision of content delivery network services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.;
- Any provision directly contracted or arranged internet transit or peering services enabling the function or optimization of the mobile application within the U.S.;
- Any utilization of the mobile application’s constituent code, functions, or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible within the US
Speaking to Fox Business (via CNBC), Ross explained that if you already have TikTok on your phone it will continue to function after September 20, but no updates will be available. It is unclear whether this is also the case for WeChat, but we should find out soon enough.
Will China Strike Back? WhatsApp Could be in its Sights…
Matthew Hodgson is co-founder and CEO of Element, a decentralised chat app seeking to challenge the likes of WeChat and WhatsApp
Commenting on the news about TikTok and WeChat, he said: “The US ban on WeChat highlights the vulnerabilities of centralised services such as WeChat and WhatsApp.
“The biggest concern is the realisation that normal users simply cannot rely on these centralised services to be available to them. Access could be terminated with zero notice due to the whims of a government or corporate changes, leaving users locked out of their conversations and contacts and left high and dry.
“Furthermore it’s not just governments that are interested in the vast amounts of data stored by huge centralised messaging services such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal or Telegram. All sorts of nefarious groups will be targeting those honeypots.
“Finally, it’s intrinsic that centralised systems acquire and retain a raft of data on their users. In the case of a messaging service, it typically stores all the users’ messages. So from that perspective, many governments are reluctant to have their citizens’ data and messages captured and stored in a different geography. But of course that works both ways – many countries are not delighted to think that their data is stored on US servers. Which is why we see the US banning WeChat, and China banning WhatsApp.”