The Trump administration said it is banning China's TikTok and WeChat from mobile app stores beginning Sunday, in a seemingly unprecedented move that will sharply raise tensions with Beijing.
The White House will take other action to curb WeChat's use starting Sunday, and will give TikTok until Nov. 12 until further limitations kick in.
Western companies and bankers are still wrangling with TikTok's owner, the White House and Chinese authorities to try to arrange a sale of some of TikTok's business. TikTok has enjoyed explosive growth in the United States, where its users number in the tens of millions.
"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," Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. "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."
After midnight as Sunday turns to Monday, anyone attempting to download TikTok or WeChat from the Apple or Google app stores in the U.S. won't be able to do so, a senior Commerce official said Friday, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations. And anyone who already has the app on a phone won't receive software updates or security patches, the official said.
The administration expects some users will find ways to continue using the apps, and it doesn't intend to prosecute anyone for that, the official said. Its aim is to decrease use of the apps over time, the official said.
"We're not going to haul some person using WeChat to communicate with persons overseas before a federal judge," the official said.
On Sunday, the U.S. will also ban the provision of services that enable WeChat to be used for money transfers or mobile payments. That measure is likely to affect banks and other financial institutions that facilitate the payments.
And as of Sunday for WeChat, and Nov. 12 for TikTok, the U.S. will ban any provision of internet hosting services, or other network services, that allow the apps to function in the U.S.
And it will prohibit any U.S. use of the distinct computer code or functions that underpin both apps, to prevent the Chinese companies from reintroducing the apps under different names, a senior Commerce official said Friday, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations.
"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," Commerce said in its statement.
TikTok is proposing that it resolve the U.S. concerns by forging a deal with database company Oracle to have the U.S. company secure its data and oversee its technical operations in the country.
That proposal was under last-minute review by the Treasury Department and Trump on Friday as the ban deadline loomed.
In a statement Friday after the Commerce bans were announced, TikTok said it disagreed with the decision to block new app downloads.
"In our proposal to the U.S. 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," the statement said.
Officials at Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings, the owner of WeChat, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been lobbying hard for a deal in which TikTok outsources data management to Oracle while allowing TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to retain some ownership, according to people familiar with the talks who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
But the plan has faced opposition among some officials and lawmakers, who believe it doesn't fully address national security concerns. It also falls far short of what the president originally signaled he wanted.
The American Civil Liberties Union also denounced the Commerce Department action as a violation of the apps' users' First Amendment rights "by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms."
"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," Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said in a statement. "In implementing President Trump's abuse of emergency powers, Secretary Ross is undermining our rights and our security. To truly address privacy concerns raised by social media platforms, Congress should enact comprehensive surveillance reform and strong consumer data privacy legislation."
TikTok has about 100 million users in the U.S. on a quarterly basis. WeChat has about 19 million daily users in the United States, according to Apptopia, an Internet analysis firm.
WeChat has been described as the Swiss army knife of apps, allowing users to pay bills, order food, book travel, read news and shop online. It's also a big conduit for Chinese speakers in the United States to communicate with relatives and friends in China.
Chinese authorities have used WeChat to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom have been detained by police or sentenced to prison for their posts on the platform.
In an Aug. 6 executive order, Trump said WeChat represents a security threat in the United States by collecting "vast swaths" of data on Americans and other users, and by allowing "the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives."
"WeChat, like TikTok, also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive and may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party," the order said.
The app is one of Tencent's best-known products, but the tech giant is also the world's largest online gaming company, a provider of cloud-computing services, and a big distributor of movies and music.