Skip to Content
Tech policy

The TikTok and WeChat ban that wasn’t: here’s whats happening now

TikTok won't be banned, while WeChat faces a temporarily reprieve
September 21, 2020
Associated Press

What's going on? The US Commerce Department issued an order banning Americans from downloading Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat at the end of last week. A lot has changed since then.

First, TikTok: Back in August, President Donald Trump said TikTok had to either be bought by a US entity by September 15 or face a ban. On Friday, the company, which doesn’t operate in China but is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was given a deadline of November 12 to come up with a satisfactory deal to keep its operations running in the US. It hasn’t met Trump’s demands. Instead, on Saturday Oracle and Walmart announced they will buy a 20% stake in TikTok. ByteDance will continue to own the majority. Trump said the deal has his “blessing.” ByteDance said Oracle has the “right to conduct security inspections on TikTok’s US source code” in order to allay supposed security concerns. Trump claims the deal will lead to a $5 billion investment in education in the US, but ByteDance has said it’s “unaware” of any such agreement. Oracle claims the deal will lead to 25,000 new jobs, but this seems highly unlikely.

What about WeChat? WeChat, a multipurpose app used widely in China for everything from messaging to payments, had been set to be pulled from Google’s and Apple’s app stores on Sunday. However, a judge in San Francisco has temporarily blocked the ban, saying it raises serious questions under the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The US government is likely to appeal to overturn the judge’s decision.

Why is this all happening, again? Ostensibly, both of the bans are all about national security and concerns that the Chinese Communist Party is using the apps to steal American citizens’ data. However, the Trump administration has repeatedly refused to provide any evidence for its claims.  

Deep Dive

Tech policy

wet market selling fish
wet market selling fish

This scientist now believes covid started in Wuhan’s wet market. Here’s why.

How a veteran virologist found fresh evidence to back up the theory that covid jumped from animals to humans in a notorious Chinese market—rather than emerged from a lab leak.

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

Professor Gang Chen of MIT
Professor Gang Chen of MIT

All charges against China Initiative defendant Gang Chen have been dismissed

MIT professor Gang Chen was one of the most prominent scientists charged under the China Initiative, a Justice Department effort meant to counter economic espionage and national security threats.

Harvard University professor Charles Lieber leaves federal court, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021
Harvard University professor Charles Lieber leaves federal court, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021

The China Initiative’s first academic guilty verdict raises more questions than it answers

Observers hoped that the trial of the prominent Harvard professor Charles Lieber would provide some clues into the future of the Department of Justice’s campaign against Chinese economic espionage.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.