US banning downloads of TikTok, WeChat, citing national security concerns

WASHINGTON — Officials will bar Chinese social media apps WeChat and TikTok from app stores in the U.S. beginning Sunday due to concerns about national security, the Commerce Department said Friday.

Restrictions going into effect Sunday will ban WeChat, a messaging app with more than a billion users worldwide. TikTok, a short-video app that has been downloaded over 175 million times in the U.S., will be banned by Nov. 12, officials 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,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Friday.

In an interview with Fox Business News, Ross said TikTok users will be able to continue using the app until Nov. 12 as its owner, the Beijing-based internet firm ByteDance, looks to sell its U.S. operations to an American company.

“If there’s not a deal by Nov. 12 under the provisions of the old order, then TikTok would also be, for all practical purpose, shut down,” Ross said, according to Fox Business News.

Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok, said in a statement posted on social media that the ban “would be bad for the industry” and called on Facebook and Instagram to push back against the administration’s plan.

“This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of express and due process of law,” Pappas wrote.

In August, President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders which outlined plans to ban transactions with the owners of TikTok and WeChat, The Associated Press reported. Trump argued that the apps collect personal and propriety data from users which could be accessed by the Chinese government. In the orders, Trump directed Ross to define which transactions would be banned before Sept. 20.

TikTok officials have previously said that the company operates separately from ByteDance and that its data centers are located outside of China, meaning their data is not subject to Chinese law, according to CNN. Company officials told the news network that TikTok keeps data for U.S. users in the United States and that national security concerns centered around the company are “unfounded.”

The action is the Trump administration’s latest attempt to weaken influence from 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. China-backed hackers, meanwhile, have been blamed for data breaches of U.S. federal databases and the credit agency Equifax, and the Chinese government strictly limits what U.S. tech companies can do in China.

The administration has provided no specific evidence that TikTok has made U.S. users' data available to the Chinese government.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.