The clock is ticking on TikTok after the US Commerce Department issued an order that will ban downloads of the wildly popular app starting Sunday, citing national security concerns.
The Friday order will see Apple and Google blocked from offering the Chinese-owned social media platform on their app stores, meaning that TikTok will not be able to add to its 100 million-strong US user base beginning Sept. 20.
TikTok will not be removed from phones that already have the software downloaded, but there will be no way for the app to receive software updates.
The order will also remove another popular Chinese-owned app, WeChat, from the app stores.
But President Trump could rescind the order before then if TikTok parent ByteDance can finalize a deal to make California-based Oracle its technology partner in the US, the Reuters reported, citing three unnamed officials.
“Today’s actions prove once again that President Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee our national security and protect Americans from the threats of the Chinese Communist Party,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“At the president’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of US laws and regulations.”
TikTok has aggressively denied that it has ever shared data with the China’s authoritarian government, and has said that it would not do so if asked.
The move comes more than a month after President Trump signed an executive order requiring TikTok parent company ByteDance to sell its US operations to a “very American company” or see the app banned.
TikTok this week came to terms with California tech giant Oracle — headed by billionaire Trump supporter Larry Ellison — in a deal that would see the cloud computing company take a 20 percent stake. Walmart would also partnering with Oracle under the proposed deal, which is still being examined by White House officials.
In a proposed deal that could take the company public under the name TikTok Global, the company’s board would be mostly US directors, including a US security expert, and it would have an American CEO, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Beijing-based ByteDance — whose ties to the Communist Party have raised concerns among US politicians about possible cyberspying — would end up with a stake of about 40 percent.
President Trump — who on Wednesday reiterated that he wanted majority domestic ownership of TikTok’s US business — was set to make a decision on Friday, according to CNBC.
It is not yet clear if Trump will approve the deal, according to the report, and he has received conflicting advice from different advisers, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“I’m not prepared to sign off on anything,” Trump said this week. “I have to see the deal. We need security, especially after what we’ve seen with respect to China and what’s going on.”Like most social networks, TikTok collects user data and moderates users’ posts. It grabs users’ locations and messages and tracks what they watch to figure out how best to target ads to them.
Similar concerns apply to US-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but Chinese ownership adds an extra wrinkle because the Chinese government could order companies to help it gather intelligence.
TikTok says it does not store US user data in China and that it would not give user data to the government. But experts say the Chinese government can get any information it wants from companies there.