The US on Friday issued orders to ban popular Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat from Sunday to safeguard national security, weeks after India banned them, saying they were prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.
The move comes a day after US President Donald Trump said he is looking into American major Oracle's reported bid for the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok and wants to ensure there is no compromise on national security before approving the deal.
Last month, Trump signed an executive order to ban TikTok and WeChat by September 15 unless the ownership of the two Chinese companies changed to American.
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, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.
The Department of Commerce warned other social media apps of replicating WeChat or TikTok's illicit behaviour. The president has the authority to consider whether additional orders may be appropriate to address such activities.
Beginning September 20, US has banned any provision of service to distribute or maintain WeChat or TikTok mobile applications, constituent code, or application updates through an online mobile application store in the US. It also bans any financial transactions including transferring funds or processing payments within the US, the department said in a statement.
From September 20, for WeChat and from November 12, for TikTok, the US has banned any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimisation of the mobile application in the US; content delivery network services enabling the functioning or optimisation of the mobile application in the US.
India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, We Chat and UC Browser on June 29, saying they were prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and security of the country. The ban was expanded to 224 Chinese apps later. The ban was imposed in the backdrop of a tense stand-off along the Line of Actual control in eastern Ladakh with Chinese troops.
President Trump had also cited India's action against the Chinese apps while announcing his plan to ban them last month.
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 US, the statement said.
The announced prohibitions, when combined, protect users in the US by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality, it said.
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, Ross said.
The president has provided until November 12 for the national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved. If they are, the prohibitions in this order may be lifted, the department said.
While the threats posed by WeChat and TikTok are not identical, they are similar, the Department of Commerce said, alleging that each collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories.
Each is an active participant in China's civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP. This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security, it said.
On August 6, Trump signed executive orders which determined that the apps capture vast swaths of information from US users, leaving the data vulnerable to CCP access for nefarious purposes.
As per the executive order, the Department of Commerce was required to identify transactions within 45 days to protect national security and the private data of millions of people across the country.
The US has also banned any provision directly contracted or arranged internet transit or peering services enabling the function or optimisation of the mobile application within the US; and any utilisation of the mobile application's constituent code, functions, or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible within the US.
If a partnership between Oracle and TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance is approved - and okayed by Trump - the app would not be banned
ByteDance has denied that it holds any user data in China, saying it is stored in the US and in Singapore. Tencent, which owns WeChat, has said that messages on its app are private.
While TikTok has over 100 million users in the US, it is not clear how many of WeChat's billion users are based outside China.