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Trump to block TikTok, WeChat downloads in US, officials say

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network that “the basic TikTok will stay intact until November 12”.

The ban on new US downloads of the widely popular app could still be rescinded by President Donald Trump before it takes effect if ByteDance seals a deal with Oracle that addresses concerns about the security of its users’ data.

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“This is the right move – ratchet up the pressure on Beijing, protect Americans,” said Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Twitter.

The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks amid escalating tensions with Beijing on a range of issues from trade and human rights to the battle for tech supremacy.

The ban on WeChat, used by over 1 billion people worldwide, bars the transfer of funds or processing of payments to or from people in the United States through it. Users could also start to experience significantly slower service or sporadic outages from Sunday night.

WeChat developer Tencent Holdings called the order “unfortunate” but said it “will continue to discuss with the government and other stakeholders in the US ways to achieve a long-term solution”.

The Commerce Department order bars Apple’s app store, Alphabet’s Google Play and others from offering the apps on any platform “that can be reached from within the United States,” a senior Commerce official said.

While the bans are less dramatic than some had feared, the Commerce Department said it could issue additional orders if it finds “that WeChat’s or TikTok’s illicit behaviour is being replicated by another app somehow outside the scope of these executive orders.”

Oracle shares were down 0.7 per cent after initially dropping 1.6 per cent in pre-market trading.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the Commerce order “violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms”.

The order does not ban US companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the United States, which will be welcome news to US firms like Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded ‘mini-app’ programs to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.

The order will not bar transactions with WeChat owner Tencent’s other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not prohibit Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the United States.

On Friday, a US judge in California declined to block the Commerce Department WeChat order, but set a hearing for 2.45pm Eastern Time. A lawyer for the WeChat users did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on August 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.

Commerce Department officials said they were taking the extraordinary step because of the risks the apps’ data collection poses. China and the companies have denied US user data is collected for spying.

Ross said in a written statement “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.”

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reuters

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