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Citing national security and data privacy concerns, the U.S. announced it will ban downloads of Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat on Sunday. A total ban was invoked beginning Sunday on WeChat for the processing of funds or payments.
A total ban of TikTok will follow on Nov. 12. However, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Friday on Fox that access to TikTok may still be possible with certain safeguards.
“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,” Ross said in a statement.
The statement added that President Trump will allow national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved until Nov. 12. Trump first signed an executive order addressing the threats of both TikTok and WeChat on Aug. 6 that said the apps “capture vast swaths of information from U.S. users, leaving the data vulnerable to the Chinese Communist Party for nefarious purposes.”
The U.S. order puts into question a reported agreement for U.S.- based Oracle to take over U.S operations of TikTok. Oracle has bid for TikTok’s operations alongside of Microsoft and Walmart. Oracle on Monday said it was the trusted technology provider for TikTok.
WeChat is very important in China as a mechanism for exchanging funds and making payments as well as a group chat and texting capability with more than 1.2 billion users, compared to fewer than 20 million in the U.S. TikTok is much smaller, with 400 million daily users in China, although numbers for the U.S. are not publicly shared. Even so, TikTok is available in more than 140 countries.
Since taking office in 2017, President Trump has stepped up measures to weaken the economic influence of China, including bans on sales of software and hardware to Huawei, which makes phones and is the largest telecom equipment provider globally.
Various trade groups, especially in the semiconductor segment, have criticized trade treatment of Chinese companies because they can undermine U.S. sales to those companies. In reaction to Friday's action, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Vice President Daniel Castro issued a strong criticism of the Trump Administration, saying it has provided no evidence that a ban on WeChat or TikTok is necessary to address a national security threat. On the contrary, he said the actions "put consumers at risk" by cutting off software updates and security improvements. Prohibiting intermediaries such as ISPs and content delivery networks to deliver TikTok content "imposes an unnecessary and unfair burden on U.S. companies," but Castro did not specifically name Oracle.
Castro called for using due process to prohibit TikTok and WeChat from operating in the U.S. "In comparison to this de facto ban, striking a deal with an American company is clearly in the best interest of all parties," Castro said in a statement. "These actions today undermine that goal and make a deal less likely. The administration should reconsider its position and pursue policies that do not further fragment the global Internet."
Noting that the U.S. measures affecting TikTok are not so far a total ban, analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates told Fierce Electronics, “We’ll see what happens next.”
If U.S. users of TikTok are eventually prevented from using a U.S.-based hosting service and have to connect to servers in China, that could pose significant network latency issues and lag that especially hinders data-rich video. “If the apps runs poorly, will people still use it?” he asked.