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The U.S. To Limit Access To TikTok And WeChat On Sunday


At midnight Sunday, you will no longer be able to download the popular video-sharing app TikTok, and you won't be able to use the messaging and payment app WeChat at all. The Trump administration issued these restrictions earlier today, citing national security concerns because both apps are owned by Chinese companies. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn joins us for more.

Hi, Bobby.


PFEIFFER: And, Bobby, a huge number of people in the U.S. view and create the short videos you can view and create on TikTok. What does this news mean for all those people?

ALLYN: Well, it means you won't be able to download TikTok. If you search for it in an app store on your phone, it won't be there, and that's a huge deal. Now, for those out there who already have TikTok and enjoy using it, the app won't be getting critical updates. So those people will see it freezing. It will be slower. It might crash more often. Eventually it won't function at all.

PFEIFFER: And what about WeChat? Because some people think of TikTok as frivolous, but when it comes to WeChat, many Chinese nationals in the U.S. rely on it. Many American companies do business - that do business with China rely on it.

ALLYN: Exactly. Yeah, WeChat will be dead in the U.S. on midnight Sunday. It won't be possible to communicate or to make payments on the app. And like you said, WeChat is not some boutique service. It's used by more than a billion people around the world. This has major economic consequences. WeChat's parent company Tencent called the Trump administration's action, quote, "unfortunate." So again, WeChat is about to be completely shut down. TikTok, on the other hand, will soon lose some functions and get slow. But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business that TikTok does have a total shutdown date, and it is nine days after the presidential election.


WILBUR ROSS: If there's not a deal by November 12 under the provisions of the old order, then TikTok also would be, for all practical purposes, shut down.

PFEIFFER: Bobby, there's been an effort to find an American buyer for TikTok. Where does that effort stand?

ALLYN: Yeah, those talks are extremely fluid. Software company Oracle and Walmart appear to be the lead bidders. But the parties are still hashing out a lot of details. Now, if a deal is finalized and Trump approves it, that could really change things, right? I mean, it could make the administration withdraw these orders, and that would relieve a lot of pressure on the apps. Trump today said a deal, quote, "could go very, very fast."

PFEIFFER: Bobby, you're based in Silicon Valley, tech epicenter. How is the tech world responding to this news?

ALLYN: Many are very alarmed, Sacha. I talked to Alex Stamos. He's the former chief security officer at Facebook. And he worries about the slippery slope effect here. He says, what if this encourages other countries to start banning apps they don't like?

ALEX STAMOS: It's a very dangerous precedent to send around the world, that the United States is acting like the Chinese do. In a democracy, we should have rules that are fairly applied and adjudicated by the judicial branch, not just by fiat and the president.

ALLYN: And, you know, some legal scholars told me, you know, these bans are tantamount to a ban of a newspaper or a TV channel or a website. And even the head of Instagram, an app that directly competes with TikTok, expressed deep concern. The Instagram official said, you know, most of its users are outside of the U.S. Most of its future growth is outside of the U.S. So what if Trump's actions here open the door to similar prohibitions on social media?

PFEIFFER: That's NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn.

Bobby, thanks for keeping us updated on this.

ALLYN: Thank you, Sacha - appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.