The US Department of Commerce has threatened to ban new downloads of Chinese-owned social media platforms Tiktok and Wechat from app stores this weekend.
“The Department of Commerce today announced prohibitions on transactions relating to mobile applications WeChat and TikTok to safeguard the national security of the United States. 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 U.S,” said the American government agency in a statement earlier today.
Starting from Sunday 20 September, the two Chinese-owned apps will be banned from being hosted on US app stores. Updates for both apps will also be prohibited for existing owners, leaving any security flaws unpatched. Payment processing through either app will also be banned within the US.
From 12 November Tiktok will also be banned from being hosted or delivered in America, or served over a CDN, or peered, or from making “any utilization of the mobile application’s constituent code, functions, or services in the functioning of software or services developed and/or accessible within the U.S.” Wechat is subject to the same bans but starting on Sunday rather than in November.
The extended timescale for Tiktok could be to give the semi-commercial negotiations over its future some breathing space to complete.
This morning we reported a lawsuit filed earlier this week in which the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said it had not yet reached a conclusion on exactly what features of Tiktok and Wechat would be banned if the two apps weren’t sold into American ownership.
“We can provide assurances that the Secretary does not intend to take actions that would target persons or groups whose only connection with WeChat is their use or downloading of the app to convey personal or business information between users, or otherwise define the relevant transactions in such a way that would impose criminal or civil liability on such users,” said a court filing (PDF) in the name of Serena Orloff of the DoJ.
Various American enterprise technology firms have been publicly jostling to buy TikTok, with Oracle being the current front-runner after Microsoft walked away.
The potential deal brings up echoes of how Skype was acquired by Microsoft, with its internal peer-to-peer architecture ripped out and replaced with a centralised hub-and-spoke network. At least one EU politician questioned, in 2013, whether this was done using NSA spy agency money, following revelations from Edward Snowden about the NSA’s Prism surveillance program targeting Skype.
Looks like app updates and new installations banned Sunday for TikTok and November hard cut. Won’t affect existing installs for now but no app updates.— Dave Kennedy (@HackingDave) September 18, 2020
WeChat different - cutting all communications Sunday.
Guess the Oracle U.S. hosting model wasn’t received well. https://t.co/YzgXo8eOYv
The door remains open for US president Donald Trump to step in and approve a planned partnership between Tiktok owner Bytedance and Oracle, which would avert a total ban on the app in America.
While the manoeuvrings are eyecatching, they are of limited immediate relevance to anyone outside the US. The North American country is, however, following in the footsteps of India, which banned the app earlier this year over the same Chinese security fears. ®