Americans will be unable to download TikTok on mobile devices through American app marketplaces after Sunday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced today. However, the administration extended its earliest deadline for ByteDance to sell the popular social video app to Nov. 12.
Ross, who also took action against Tencent-owned messaging app WeChat, said the decision was aimed at combating “China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data,” though TikTok has vehemently denied that it shares U.S. user data with the Chinese government.
Apple and Google, both government contractors, command the two main mobile app marketplaces in the United States. Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment about whether it will comply with the Trump administration’s order. TikTok released a statement late Friday morning saying it is “disappointed” in the Commerce Department’s decision.
“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 U.S. government oversight of U.S. data security,” TikTok spokesperson Laura Perez said. “Further, an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the U.S., which would include all services and data serving U.S. consumers. We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the U.S. of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods.”
The escalation comes as TikTok nears a transaction with a group of investors, led by Oracle, that would make the California-based tech firm TikTok’s “trusted technology partner,” but the terms of the deal have not been finalized. Multiple outlets reported this week that ByteDance plans to execute an initial public offering to quell regulator concerns, making it a publicly owned stock on a major exchange.
The Commerce Department was harsher on WeChat, which commands a small user base in the U.S. relative to its massive reach in mainland China. After Sunday, it will be illegal to host WeChat traffic in the U.S.
The order was perceived as “just more pressure tactics” from the administration by James Andrew Lewis, who directs the Technology Policy Program at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a prominent foreign policy think tank. He previously told Adweek that TikTok has “no intelligence value” to the Chinese government’s extensive espionage campaign against the U.S.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, condemned the government order, tweeting that a U.S. ban of TikTok would “be a meaningful step” toward a “more fragmented nationalized internet, which would be bad for U.S. tech companies.” The Wall Street Journal, however, recently reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “stoked fears” in Washington about TikTok, accusing the app of not being committed to freedom of expression. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s acting CEO, tweeted back at Mosseri Friday. “We agree that this type of ban would be bad for the industry,” she said. “We invite Facebook and Instagram to publicly join our challenge and support our litigation. This is a moment to put aside our competition and focus on core principles like freedom of expression and due process of law.”
After Sunday, TikTok, if banned from the major app stores, may still be available through “sideloading,” which involves downloading the apps from a third-party source. TikTok will still be functional in the United States for existing users but will not be able to process software updates through traditional means after Sunday.