The Commerce Department announced this morning that it will require mobile app stores to remove popular social media apps TikTok and WeChat. New users will not be able to download these apps, and while existing users will still be able to use their existing apps installed on their phones, new updates will not be allowed to be installed. In addition, the Commerce Department is also banning any payment transactions through WeChat within the United States.
The bans will go into force Sunday, September 20.
Those decisions are in line with an executive order signed by President Trump on August 6, which put ByteDance and Tencent, the respective owners of TikTok and WeChat, on notice of the government’s intention to block access to their products over purported concerns about national security.
That executive order precipitated the last few weeks of feverish dealmaking to avoid a shutdown of TikTok, discussions that remain on-going and are not finalized. As of today, Oracle and what looks like Walmart are still negotiating with the White House, Treasury Department, and ByteDance to come to a deal that will be acceptable to the president. China also has authority to approve a sale of TikTok.
Over the last few weeks, the administration has promoted a policy known as “Clean Network” designed to eliminate foreign interference in applications and cloud infrastructure that powers American technology. That policy calls for the removal of certain apps, data sovereignty to onshore American user data to the United States, mobile network infrastructure built from “clean” equipment, and a host of other measures to create a “clean” computing environment for U.S. citizens. While those policies are generally written broadly, their clear target has been China, based on speeches from administration officials.
TikTok and WeChat are not the only app removals announced over night. In India, one of the most popular payment apps in the country — Paytm — has been removed from Google’s Play Store for “repeat policy violations.” The app has tens of millions of monthly users. In late June, the country also announced a list of 59 apps developed by Chinese companies that would be banned, including TikTok.
Such national fights over the future of technology have increasingly come to a head as tech drives a larger segment of the global economy and increasingly becomes intertwined with competing national interests.