U.S. Bans TikTok, WeChat Citing National Security

Tiktok App -Getty -2- H 2020
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The government said its order, previously announced by Trump in August, will "combat China's malicious collection of American citizens' personal data."

The U.S. will ban the downloads of the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat on Sunday, with a total ban on the use of the latter, citing national security and data privacy concerns.

A total ban on the use of TikTok will follow on Nov. 12, but Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said early Friday on Fox Business News that access to that app may be possible if certain safeguards are put into place.

"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 prepared statement.

The government said its order, previously announced by President Donald Trump in August, will "combat China's malicious collection of American citizens' personal data."

The government order also raises questions about California tech giant Oracle's recent deal to take over U.S. operations of TikTok, a requirement by the Trump administration for the app to continue operating in the U.S.

A TikTok spokeswoman responded to the news on Friday morning with a lengthy statement. "We disagree with the decision from the Commerce Department, and are disappointed that it stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the US from November 12," it reads. "Our community of 100 million US users love TikTok because it's a home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection, and we’re committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform."

Details of the Oracle-TikTok deal were sketchy at best. Oracle was among the pool of bidders, including Microsoft and Walmart, to buy TikTok's American operations.

Oracle, in confirming it was the winning bidder Monday, didn't refer to the deal as a sale or acquisition, instead saying it was chosen as TikTok's "trusted technology provider."

It's unclear at this point what assets, if any, Oracle would actually acquire.

Some security experts have raised concerns that ByteDance Ltd., the Chinese company that owns TikTok, would maintain access to information on the 100 million TikTok users in the United States, creating a security risk.

In its statement, TikTok said, "In our proposal to the US Administration, we've already committed to unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and US government oversight of US data security. Further, an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the US, which would include all services and data serving US consumers."

Like most social networks, TikTok collects user data and moderates users' posts. It grabs users' locations and messages and tracks what they watch to figure out how best to target ads to them.

Similar concerns apply to U.S.-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but Chinese ownership adds an extra wrinkle because the Chinese government could order companies to help it gather intelligence.

TikTok says it does not store U.S. user data in China and that it would not give user data to the government.

But experts say the Chinese government can get any information it wants from companies there.

The action is the Trump administration's latest attempt to weaken influence from China, a rising economic superpower. Since taking office in 2017, Trump has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment. China-backed hackers, meanwhile, have been blamed for data breaches of U.S. federal databases and the credit agency Equifax, and the Chinese government strictly limits what U.S. tech companies can do in China.

Republican and Democratic lawmaker concerns about TikTok include its vulnerability to censorship and misinformation campaigns, and the safety of user data and children's privacy. But the administration has provided no specific evidence that TikTok has made U.S. users' data available to the Chinese government.
Officials point to the hypothetical threat that lies in the Chinese government's ability to demand cooperation from Chinese companies.

TikTok, which has sued Trump over the executive order, said it would continue to challenge the decision, arguing that it "was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods."

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, which recently launched TikTok competitor Reels, tweeted Friday morning that "a US TikTok ban would be quite bad for Instagram, Facebook, and the internet more broadly." TikTok interim head Vanessa Pappas responded that she agreed. "We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation. This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principals like freedom of expression and due process of law."

Sept. 18, 8:07 p.m. Updated with TikTok's statement and interim head Vanessa Pappas' tweet.