TikTok will be removed from US app stores from 20th September as Washington carries out orders from President Donald Trump that also involve WeChat, a Chinese social media app. The US commerce department, which announced the move on Friday, instructed Apple and Google to remove the Chinese versions of TikTok and WeChat from their app stores in China.
Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, said: “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 US laws and regulations.”
The imminent removals come as Oracle and ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, continue talks with the Trump administration over how to resolve its concerns over the video app. Any deal will also have to be approved by Beijing.
Mr Trump has raised concerns about the continuing Chinese ownership of the app, while Marco Rubio, an influential Republican senator, and other lawmakers have complained that the deal would allow ByteDance to retain control of the algorithm that selects which videos to show to each user.
The battle over TikTok is the latest example of the much tougher stance Mr Trump has taken against China in recent months. Some critics question why he is targeting an app such as TikTok that is largely used by teenagers, but experts said that the data the app gathers on its users threatened US security.
“Big data is the core of intelligence now,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “This is the most intense espionage campaign against the US since the Reagan administration. We are engaged in an intense espionage contest — a spy war — with China.”
Mr Trump last month said TikTok posed a security threat by “potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees . . . build dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage”.
Asked whether he believed that China would retaliate against the moves, he said: “Well, that’s up to them.”