Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Department of Commerce Orders Removal of TikTok and WeChat From U.S. App Stores on Sunday

Kate Cox, Ars Technica:

Consumers inside the US will no longer be allowed to download TikTok or WeChat from any US app store after Sunday, the Trump administration announced today.

Any “provision of service to distribute or maintain” the mobile applications or their “constituent code” is prohibited beginning after 11:59pm ET September 20, the Department of Commerce said this morning. That means Google Play and Apple’s App Store will have to yank their listings for the apps, and users who already have one or both apps will not be able to download updates or patches for them.

The theoretical security risks of apps involved in what Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross calls “China’s civil-military fusion” are hazy but plausible. These restrictions only apply to TikTok and WeChat, not all apps with Chinese origin. Furthermore, WeChat is effectively the default digital layer for many in China, so it is an essential app for Americans staying in touch.

So, to summarize the saga so far:

  • The capability to download WeChat and TikTok in the U.S. will stop Sunday night under the umbrella rationalization that Chinese apps are unique security threats. No other apps or devices of Chinese origin will be prohibited, and no specific security problem has been identified.

  • Software updates for those apps, including bug fixes and security patches, will also stop Sunday night for, you know, security reasons.

  • WeChat’s functionality will be kneecapped then, cutting off a popular communications bridge between the U.S. and China.

  • TikTok will continue to work until November 12 as the finer details are worked out to transfer U.S. hosting contracts from companies Donald Trump personally dislikes to one that he does.

  • Election day is November 3 and it would be politically fraught to have headlines reading Trump Bans TikTok in the coming week.

  • So far, the TikTok deal does not appear to have a meaningful impact on national security or user privacy — the two concerns that created this vortex of corruption and bullshit in the first place.

I get why China’s state-connected businesses are worrying for some Americans, but this order does almost nothing to alleviate those concerns. It adds a communications roadblock for Americans with family, friends, and coworkers in China, and it lays the groundwork to enrich a company whose executives have fundraised for the president.