Americans will be blocked from downloading Chinese super-app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok due to concerns the platforms pose a national security risk.
When US President Donald Trump signed executive orders to ban “transactions” with the Chinese owners of the apps in August, he declared TikTok a “national emergency”.
The country’s Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross says the bans are to “safeguard the national security of the United States”.
We’ve answered five quick questions about what the bans means to users.
When does the ban take effect?
The bans mean both TikTok and WeChat and the apps’ updates will no longer be distributed in US app stores as of Sunday.
What’s the problem?
Analysts say the apps harvest large amounts of data and warn the companies may be forced to share that information with the Chinese Government.
Mr Trump previously claimed TikTok could be used in disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and that he held concerns about how WeChat collected people’s personal data.
US Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross shed further light on Friday of the US’s concerns.
A statement from Mr Ross says both apps collect “vast swaths of data from users”.
“While the threats posed by WeChat and TikTok are not identical, they are similar.”
The data collected includes network activity, location data and browsing and search histories.
“Each is an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP. This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.”
What does it mean for WeChat users in the US?
WeChat’s 19 million daily active US users will notice the app beginning to degrade from Sunday.
The app is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and Americans who have personal and business relationships in China.
US officials believe over time people will find other apps to use out of frustration due to a lack of updates.
The order bars data hosting within the United States for WeChat, content delivery services and networks that can increase functionality and internet transit or peering services.
“What immediately is going to happen is users are going to experience a lag or lack of functionality,” an official said.
“It may still be usable but it is not going to be as functional as it was.”
Tencent, which owns WeChat, said the restrictions were “unfortunate” but it would continue talking with the Government and other stakeholders in the US to find a long-term solution.
“WeChat was designed to serve international users outside of mainland China and has always incorporated the highest standards of user privacy and data security.”
Is it the same for TikTok?
The 100 million existing Tiktok users in the US will see little change until mid November when a ban on some technical transactions will kick in, affecting functionality.
“The basic TikTok will stay intact until November 12,” Mr Ross says.
The delay buys the app’s parent group ByteDance some time to reach an agreement about its US operations and address concerns about the security of its users’ data.
TikTok said in a statement it was “disappointed” the Commerce Department “stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the US from November 12”.
“We’re committed to protecting [users’] privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”
“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 US Government oversight of US data security.
“Further, an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the US, which would include all services and data serving US consumers.”
Will TikTok or WeChat be banned in Australia?
No, not at this stage. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated the Federal Government will not ban TikTok but has warned users the app “connects right back to China”.
At the Aspen Security Forum, the Prime Minister said: “There’s nothing at this point that would suggest to us that security interests are being compromised, or Australian citizens are being compromised.”
“We’ll obviously keep watching them, but there’s no evidence to suggest to us today that [a ban] is a step that is necessary.”
The ABC has been told that the Federal Government is conducting two complementary investigations into the app.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs is scrutinising WeChat, which is used by more than 2 million Australians.