September 18, 2020
Following months of threats, the U.S. Department of Commerce Sept. 18 announced it would suspend domestic access to Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat beginning Sept. 20. The apps are collectively used by about 100 million Americans for social media videos and communications.
The Trump Administration contends the apps pose a national security threat by accessing U.S. users’ personal data that is stored on Chinese servers and accessed by Chinese security personnel, including the military.
“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,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
Specifically, rollout of Trump’s previously-announced executive orders will restrict the transfer or processing of payments through the WeChat network. It would also bar third-party U.S. firms from offering ISP or peering access to WeChat.
“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,” Ross said.
With TikTok operations in the U.S. set to be acquired by Oracle, formal restrictions on the social media app’s use domestically won’t go into effect until Nov. 12. As a result, the only immediate change to TikTok in the U.S. after Sept. 20 is user access to updated app features and maintenance.
The mining of user information across digital apps is not unique to TikTok or WeChat. It is common practice for most digital firms, including Google and Facebook. But those two companies are American and thus not subject to Trump’s ongoing trade spat with China.
Some observers contend Trump’s targeting of TikTok is personal, stemming in part to media reports the app — through third parties — was responsible for the lower-than-expected turnout at Trump’s June campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla.
“A lot of [this ban] just feels to me to be improvisational,” Adam Segal, a cybersecurity official at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The New York Times.