The Trump administration announced a ban on downloading two popular social media apps owned by China-based corporations starting this Sunday, citing national security and consumer privacy concerns.
WeChat and TikTok will be banned from being downloaded in app stores starting this Sunday, per a Department of Commerce order issued on Friday. Further restrictions on WeChat will also be implemented, including bans on use of the app’s code, functions and services.
A similar ban on the functional uses of TikTok will take effect starting November 12, unless the app is sold to the U.S.-based company Oracle.
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“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 U.S. laws and regulations,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.
TikTok has long said that it does not provide users’ information to the Chinese government. In a lawsuit it filed against an executive order from President Trump last month, the company claimed it took “extraordinary” steps to protect users’ personal information from state surveillance.
The Trump administration’s targeting of the app “is not based on a bona fide national emergency and authorizes the prohibition of activities that have not been found to pose ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat,'” the company said in the lawsuit.
Forbes Senior Editor Abram Brown suggested that Trump’s targeting of TikTok may stem from an apparent prank played on a campaign rally held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20. Registration for the event was held online, and many users of TikTok purposely registered in droves in order to mislead campaign officials, who then set extremely high expectations for turnout. Many have speculated that that was the reason why the rally was sparsely attended.
The Trump campaign denied the idea that false TikTok registrations affected turnout, saying that they weed out “phony ticket requests” for their events and rallies. Instead, the campaign blamed protesters for blocking entry for rally-goers to the BOK Center, though those claims were proven to be false.
Some security experts have criticized the administration’s moves to block the app, arguing that there is a significant lack of proof that data is being collected by Beijing directly through people using the product. Some experts have conceded the threat is a real possibility, but that the actions by the White House are otherwise extreme reactions lacking tangible evidence to back up such moves.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) condemned the order from the Trump administration banning WeChat and TikTok on Friday, arguing that the action was in violation of the Constitution.
“This 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,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “The order also harms the privacy and security of millions of existing TikTok and WeChat users in the United States by blocking software updates, which can fix vulnerabilities and make the apps more secure.”
Shamsi argued that if privacy concerns were important to the administration, it should push for Congress to “enact comprehensive surveillance reform and strong consumer data privacy legislation” instead of using executive action to ban the apps.
Other social media companies engage in extreme levels of data harvesting, including Facebook and Twitter, who use the information for targeted advertising on their platforms. Such actions have not warranted similar outcry from the Trump administration.
The U.S. government has also long engaged in data collection against its own citizens. Earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a National Security Agency phone data-collection program, exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden seven years ago, was illegal and possibly unconstitutional under the law.