Time runs out for TikTok as Trump announces Sunday ban

Deadline looms large for TikTok and social messaging platform WeChat as White House says app store ban will take effect on Sunday.

Fiona Graham, Editorial Director, Light Reading

September 18, 2020

4 Min Read
Time runs out for TikTok as Trump announces Sunday ban

After several weeks of cloak and dagger machinations involving various big tech suitors, rumours of an IPO, the loss of CEO Kevin Mayer and legal challenges, it looks like time has run out for TikTok in the US.

The Trump administration has announced that from Sunday, September 20 2020, both the social video platform and Chinese messenger and social network WeChat will no longer be available for download in the US.

Figure 1: Tiny thumbs up: Despite having a full dance card, TikTok could be grounded from Sunday. (Source: White House) Tiny thumbs up: Despite having a full dance card, TikTok could be grounded from Sunday.
(Source: White House)

If you already have the app on your phone, you won't notice any difference until November 12, when the bar on technical transactions is set to take effect.

In theory, this gives parent company ByteDance time to try and reach a deal with preferred suitor Oracle that meets White House approval.

And there's always the possibility that the decision could be reversed ahead of the Sunday deadline.

The clock is ticking
Oracle shares fell 1.6% after the news in pre-market trading.

So far, the order won't stop companies based in the US from conducting business on the WeChat platform, or with owner Tencent's other subsidiaries.

Both apps will be still available for download from app stores geolocated outside the US – which means motivated Americans who want to access them may be able to find a way.

Although US users won't have to remove the app from their phones as yet, no new updates or downloads will be permitted.

"We are aiming at a top corporate level. We're not going to go out after the individual users," one Commerce official told Reuters.

The department believes by stopping updates it will impact usability, and cause some outages, which in turn will reduce the user base.

"The expectation is that people will find alternative ways to do these actions," he said.

"We expect the market to act and there will be more secure apps that will fill in these gaps that Americans can trust and that the United States government won't have to take similar actions against.

"What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality. It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was."

Planned obsolescence
The ban follows executive orders issued by President Trump on August 6, on the grounds that both platforms pose a threat to national security, in the way they handle and store users' data.

Both companies and the Chinese state have denied that US user data is used for spying.

Want to know more about security? Check out our dedicated security channel here on Light Reading.

TikTok has 100 million users in the US while WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users.

A California-based user group has taken the government to court, claiming the WeChat ban is discriminatory as they use the platform to stay in touch with Chinese-speaking friends and family. A judge is due to rule on whether the ban can be stayed. The platform has over a billion users in China.

Given the precedent set over the past few weeks, a lot could happen between now and Sunday. Watch this space.

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Fiona Graham, editorial director, Light Reading

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Fiona Graham

Editorial Director, Light Reading

Fiona is the Editorial Director at Light Reading. 

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