US banning use of WeChat, TikTok for national security

The U.S. will ban the use of WeChat Sunday to "safeguard the national security of the United States."

The Chinese app TikTok will also be banned by Nov. 12, but Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said early Friday on CNBC that access to that app may be possible if certain safeguards are in place.

Downloads of both apps will be banned starting Sunday, with WeChat financial transactions also stopped. Updates of both apps will also be barred.

"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 U.S. laws and regulations," Ross said in a prepared statement.

The government said its order, previously announced by President Donald Trump in August, will "combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data."

The government previously said that using and downloading the app to communicate won’t be a banned transaction, although messaging on the app "could be directly or indirectly impaired" by the ban, and people who use it for messaging won’t be subject to penalties.

Some security experts have raised concerns that ByteDance Ltd., the Chinese company that owns TikTok, would maintain access to information on the 100 million TikTok users in the United States, creating a security risk.

According to the Commerce Department, TikTok has until Nov. 12 to make a deal with a U.S. company. ABC News reports President Trump wants to see the app sold to a U.S. operation to alleviate security concerns.

Recently, California tech company Oracle struck a deal with TikTok that the administration is still reviewing, according to ABC News.

TikTok sued to prevent President Trump’s ban, after he issued the August order.

“I think there are valid national security concerns,” said Michael Rozin, president of Minneapolis-based Rozin Security.

He said similar to other social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, these collect data including IP addresses and geolocation information. TikTok and WeChat are owned by Chinese companies.

“If you’re familiar with Chinese national security laws, the Chinese government could enact them at any given time and with that in mind they could potentially access the data that is owned by the Chinese private companies,” he said.

Rozin said that could be particularly dangerous for high profile CEOs or military officials whose family members use the apps.

“Now potentially if a Chinese governmental agency gets his hands on their data, they’ll be able to know a lot about this person, where they are, they will know where they live,” said Rozin. "That could compromise the security of those individuals that could be a legitimate target by foreign governments, that’s concern number one. Concern number two is the fact that chinese government could potentially influence the policy making and political environemnt in the United States by using this platform."

According to ABC News, TikTok said it does not store U.S. user data in China and wouldn’t give data to the government. In addition, the company said it doesn’t censor videos, a concern of Rozin’s.

“They could remove or demote videos that they don’t want to be seen, that don’t align with their political agenda and that is a very powerful tool,” he said.

He said he understands that some adults may acknowledge the risks and continue to use the apps anyway.

“I think it’s a reasonable statement that I understand the risks, […] I am okay with the Chinese government potentially knowing my location, my IP address, if they see my content, I totally understand and I am mature enough that I can distinguish what is right, what is wrong, what is propaganda versus what is real,” he said. “I’m not sure that statement is applicable for teenagers […] they are highly vulnerable and foreign governments and other threat actors could get access to the adults who could be a target.”

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