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US government deplatforms TikTok and WeChat

The Commerce Department of the US government has banned new downloads of TikTok and WeChat in the US, and announced new prohibitions on doing business with them

The US Commerce Department has taken a series of steps to strip the ability of American citizens to freely use Chinese-owned mobile applications TikTok and WeChat, halting new downloads via services such as Apple’s iOS App Store and Google Play, and restricting the ability of the tech industry to supply services to them.

The moves come in response to presidential Executive Orders signed in August, proposing to ban both services outright over national security concerns, and in spite of a proposed partnership between TikTok and Oracle. The value of Oracle stock has fallen in response.

“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 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 US laws and regulations.”

Both apps stand accused of collecting vast swathes of data from users, including their network activity, location data, browsing and search history. The US alleges both are “active participants” in China’s “civil-military fusion” and subject to compulsory collaboration with Beijing’s intelligence services.

Besides forbidding the provision of any service to distribute or maintain the apps, their code, or updates through an app store, the new order also prohibits the following:

  • Providing services through WeChat to transfer funds or process payments in the US;
  • Providing internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimisation of TikTok in the US;
  • Providing content delivery network services to same;
  • Providing directly contracted or arranged internet transit or peering services to same;
  • Utilisation of TikTok’s constituent code, functions or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible in the US.

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The US government said that it may identify other prohibitive transactions relating to both apps in future, and should it determine that the “illicit behaviour” of either was being replicated by another app outside the scope of the executive orders, Trump had the authority to issue further decrees as appropriate.

According to Reuters, which was exclusively pre-briefed on the announcement, the order does not ban US companies from doing business with WeChat outside the US, or from doing business with its parents’ other businesses – Tencent also operates online gaming, for example. Nor does it stop Apple or Google from offering the TikTok or WeChat apps to iOS and Android users outside the US.

It is still possible that the prohibitions in the order may be lifted if, by 12 November, the US deems the national security concerns posed by TikTok are resolved.

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