When the Commerce Department said on Friday that it would ban all new downloads of WeChat and TikTok from U.S. app stores soon, it marked the latest escalation in the weeks-long saga of TikTok’s future in America. The drama has been unfolding since early August, when Donald Trump first said he intended to ban the app if it didn’t sell its US operations to a US company. But there are still many unanswered questions and a total ban on the app is far from guaranteed. Here’s what we know about the current situation – for now.
Will TikTok really be banned?
Importantly, there are two key dates here. The first is Sunday, September 20, when new downloads will be blocked in US app stores. But the roughly 100 million people who already use TikTok in the US will be able to continue to do so, but they won’t be able to download app updates or security patches. There is also no mention of the TikTok website, which allows users to view their feeds as they normally would, even though they cannot download new clips.
The second date is November 12, when the Commerce Department said the service will face a more drastic ban that will ban all use of TikTok. But that’s not set in stone either. He notes that if TikTok can address Trump’s “national security concerns” before then (which would likely involve some sort of deal with Oracle), the order could be lifted.
As Missouri Senator Josh Hawley suggested in a tweet, the order appears to be more of a pressure on China than the implementation of a total ban right now. So in a sense, the latest threat actually gives TikTok a bit more time to solidify a deal.
But! China could still throw a wrench into these plans.
Speaking of China, the Chinese government has a say in all of this. Even if TikTok accepts a deal that satisfies Trump, ByteDance still needs China’s approval. Complicating matters further is the fate of TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, which is now subject to Chinese government trade rules on exports of AI technology.
What exactly are “national security concerns”?
As we have already pointed out, the Trump administration has yet to present any tangible evidence of the alleged threat to national security posed by TikTok. The main concern was that as a Chinese tech company, ByteDance might be forced to pass on user data or otherwise work with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to monitor US users. (TikTok insisted it would not comply with such requests.) In the DoC order, the government states that TikTok “collects vast expanses of data from users” and is “an active participant in China’s civil-military merger and is subject to the obligation of cooperation with the CCP’s intelligence services, “but did not cite any details.
Critics have pointed out that the data TikTok collects is similar to what other popular apps (including Facebook) collect, and that Trump has shown little interest in regulating other apps from Chinese tech companies.