- The Trump administration will ban the use of chat and payments app WeChat for users in the US beginning September 20.
- The ban is part of an order from the US Commerce Department that will prohibit new downloads and app updates of WeChat and video app TikTok over fears that the apps' user data can be accessed by the Chinese government.
- But the ban has far-reaching implications for WeChat: While TikTok will still be usable in the US after Sunday, and a possible sale to US-based Oracle and other investors would eliminate national security concerns, WeChat has no similar way out.
- The app is said to have 3.3 million monthly active users in the US, many of whom use it to communicate with family and friends in China.
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Downloads of Tiktok and WeChat will both be banned in the US beginning on Sunday, the latest escalation in the Trump administration's battle with Chinese-owned apps that are popular among US users. But while Tiktok may be able to escape the ban by selling to US investors, there is no easy escape for WeChat.
The US Commerce Department on Friday issued an order that prohibits new app downloads or updates to hyper-popular video app TikTok, which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, and WeChat, a chat and payments app owned by owned by the Chinese mega-conglomerate Tencent. The apps' connection to China has sparked government fears over national security and data collection by Chinese officials.
But the order goes one step further, and it has far worse implications for WeChat: Beginning on Sunday, the app will not only be unavailable to download and unable to process payments, but it will also be rendered unusable for US users — the Commerce Department order prohibits any internet hosting service from "enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the US."
TikTok is currently exploring a sale in the US to software company Oracle and other US investors, which would resolve the Trump administration's national security concerns. If the deal is completed before November 12, the Trump administration says it will lift the ban.
But there is no such deal on the table for WeChat, and no clear pathway for the app to ban to be lifted.
Both TikTok and WeChat have been closely scrutinized by the Trump administration over the last several months. In August, Trump issued an executive order barring American companies and individuals from making "any transaction" with WeChat over concerns about how much user data the app collects and whether the Chinese government is able to access it.
WeChat currently has millions of users in the US — estimates range from 3.3 million monthly active users, according to App Annie, to 19 million daily active users, according to Reuters, using data from app analytics tracker Apptopia. While the app began as a straightforward messaging service in 2011, it has since evolved into much more, adding features like the ability to send mobile payments, video calling, gaming, shopping, and the option to hail a taxi or order food. The new
The app is a major part of everyday life in China, to an extent that users outside the country can't fully comprehend — as analyst and Stratechery founder Ben Thompson wrote in 2017, "WeChat is your phone," far more than any comparable apps in the US.
WeChat and Tencent's other messaging app, QQ, are used by more than two-thirds of Chinese people, according to Bloomberg.
According to a report from Reuters' Krystal Hu, WeChat has become one of the main communication tools between people the US and China, in part because it hadn't yet been blocked in either country, unlike other popular chat apps, including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Reuters reports that the ban on WeChat would sever a communication lifeline for Chinese students or expats living in the US, who rely on it to reach family and friends back home.
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