The Trump administration is pushing forward its plan to ban the Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat from American app stores.
The Commerce Department on Friday announced that beginning Sunday, it would prohibit downloads of WeChat and TikTok in U.S. app stores, and ban transactions made through WeChat.
“Today’s announced prohibitions, when combined, protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality,” the Commerce Department said in a statement.
The details of the prohibition have a significant impact on TikTok and WeChat users. Here’s what you need to know.
So what is happening, exactly?
The immediate effects of the order: As of Sunday, Americans will no longer be able to download TikTok or WeChat from the Apple and Google Play app stores. WeChat users here will not be able to use the messaging app for sending payments.
What does this mean for TikTok and WeChat users?
If you have TikTok downloaded on your phone, you are fine — for now. The Commerce Department will wait until Nov. 12 — after the election — to pursue a full ban on TikTok. However, if you have deleted the TikTok app from your phone, beginning on Sunday you won’t be able to download it again, even if you have a TikTok account. You also won’t be able to receive any software updates that fix bugs and add features.
The prohibition is more immediate for WeChat users. Beginning Sunday, not only will you not be able to download the WeChat app or software updates from the App Store or Google Play, you also won’t be able to send payments to family members or businesses that use WeChat as a payment method.
Even if I already have the app, is this a big deal?
Yes. Apps like WeChat and TikTok are not static. They are live internet services that require maintenance, which include security and bug fixes, and if you stop receiving updates, they may eventually cease to work properly. So even if you are grandfathered in, so to speak, this type of prohibition could effectively ban you from using the apps alongside other TikTok and WeChat users around the globe. (Best-case scenario, the apps will continue to work, but poorly.)
What can I do?
Nothing practical. TikTok is attempting to reach a deal with an American company before November in order to avoid a ban.
Google Android users may try to “sideload” future versions of the WeChat and TikTok apps on to their devices, a process that involves changing some security settings to download apps from outside Google’s official app store. Apple phones also have methods to install unauthorized applications. But sideloading and installing apps through unofficial channels is impractical, because it can compromise device security, and it is not simple for average people to do.
Apple and Google users could also try to download the apps from foreign app stores by traveling to other countries or using a virtual private network to connect to a remote server and manipulate their device location. But again, this is impractical.