The U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday that social media platforms TikTok and WeChat will be banned from distribution in the U.S. starting Sunday, September 20. But there’s one important caveat, according to the Commerce Department press release. TikTok has until November 12 for the so-called “national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved.” If those problems go away, according to the government, “this order may be lifted.”
The news, first reported by the Financial Times and confirmed by Reuters, comes after President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok over “national security” concerns and connections to the Chinese Communist Party. Trump signed two executive orders on August 6, accusing TikTok and WeChat of leaving user data “vulnerable to CCP access for nefarious purposes.”
The Commerce Department announcement says that as of September 20, both WeChat and TikTok will not be allowed to “distribute or maintain” their respective services for U.S. users. The word “maintain” likely refers to providing updates to the social media services, meaning that American users will still be able to use TikTok if they download it before Sunday, but service will degrade as updates can’t be legally distributed.
The White House was expected to announce on Friday whether it would allow Oracle to buy a portion of TikTok’s U.S. operations, and this new notice would appear to confirm the answer is “no” — at least in the short term, under the current deal being proposed.
Under the current proposal from Oracle, the U.S.-based company wouldn’t actually buy TikTok outright, but instead act as a “security partner” to ensure that user data from Americans wasn’t compromised. Oracle has deep ties to U.S. intelligence agencies, which makes the entire proposition kind of funny. Under the deal, American TikTok users would essentially be trading potential Chinese spies looking at their data for potential U.S. spies looking at their data.
The press release from the Commerce Department also explicitly bans WeChat, which has features that allow people to pay for things and transfer money, from providing those services anymore.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S. Today’s announced prohibitions, when combined, protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality,” the press release said.
The order also warns that any other company found to be engaging in “WeChat’s or TikTok’s illicit behaviour” — which, again, is still something we don’t have many details about — will face a ban as well.
The release out of the Commerce Department was reminiscent of the things you’d see coming out of other authoritarian regimes like North Korea, praising Dear Leader for protecting Americans from a threat that’s never elaborated on with any degree of specificity.
“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,” said U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
“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 continued.
OK. Fine. I just downloaded TikTok.
— Eric Zuckerman (@EricZuck) September 18, 2020
The ban is likely to spur a mass download of the app by Americans before it’s banned on Sunday. And if you check social media sites like Twitter, people who’ve never had any interest in TikTok before today are doing just that.
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.