Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

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.