The Trump administration’s war on TikTok continues to escalate, and today’s news of a September 20 deadline to pull the app – along with WeChat – from US app stores has users understandably concerned that the short video social network might stop working. Turns out, today’s announcement makes it a little more complicated than that: read on for what you need to know if you’re a TikTok fan.
The background of the TikTok ban
Back on August 6, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) about TikTok, on the basis that it captured “vast swaths of information from US users.” Arguing that the social network’s Chinese owners presented a security risk, the claim was that US data would be left “vulnerable” to access by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The CCP, the US government has argued, “has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy” in America. As a result, Trump’s original EO gave 45 days for changes, effectively demanding that TikTok be brought under control of a US company, or at least its data. That prompted some potential deals from, on the face of it, unlikely suitors.
Microsoft, Oracle, and Walmart might not be the trio you’d first associate with a video social app popular among Gen Z, but the three US stalwarts all expressed interest. Microsoft dropped out of the running last week, and the latest whispers indicate Oracle may be close to a deal in principle with TikTok owners ByteDance. That, however, would hinge on the agreement getting approval by the US government.
TikTok must go from the App Store and Google Play
Today, the US Department of Commerce raised the stakes. As of Sunday, September 20, 2020, it was announced, TikTok – and WeChat – must be removed from any mobile App Store in the US. That means Apple’s App Store, the Google Play store, and any other third-party download store where you can currently find the software.
The rule basically prohibits any new installs of TikTok as of Sunday, and any app updates. For WeChat it’s even more significant a deadline. Not only must the app itself be removed from download stores, but any fund payment or transfer services within the US through the app must cease, too. Indeed WeChat as we know it will simply stop working in the US, since the Department of Commerce has also prohibited any internet hosting for it ini the US, any content delivery network services in the US carrying its traffic, any VPNs or other ways to circumnavigate those bans, and any other use of its code to offer workarounds.
Will TikTok stop working on September 20?
The situation for TikTok, though, is a little different. While it’ll eventually be subject to those escalated restrictions, the Department of Commerce confirmed today, they won’t take affect at the same time as they do for WeChat.
Instead, TikTok has until November 12 before the US government basically clamps down on traffic to the app. It means that, for the moment at least, TikTok will continue to work as it does today. You should still be able to view, and post, videos if you’re in the US.
ByteDance won’t be able to offer app updates from Sunday, however, for its US users. The Department of Commerce, meanwhile, is reserving the right to change its policies too, should any further reason for its security suspicions be raised. In short, that November 12 deadline isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all of the story.
Can TikTok be saved?
At the same time, there’s the possibility for a reversal of TikTok’s fortunes here. Today’s prohibitions by the Department of Commerce actually modify what was expected of the TikTok deadline as established in Trump’s original EO. The assumption until now had been that, after the 45 day period the President gave to wrest TikTok out from Chinese control, it would simply be blocked altogether were his demands not met.
Instead, there’s this semi-reprieve until mid-November. “The President has provided until November 12 for the national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved,” Commerce suggests. “If they are, the prohibitions in this order may be lifted.”
The long-term future of TikTok in the US depends on the US government approving a deal, therefore, but that won’t necessarily be straightforward. While Oracle and ByteDance are believed to have one sketched out, it’ll need political buy-in to go through. For the moment, enjoy your TikTok time while you can, because there’s no guarantee it’ll still be available in the US by the end of 2020.