What Trump's TikTok Ban Means For Users

The U.S. government has announced that imminent restrictions on TikTok and WeChat will take effect from this week—but the situation is more complex than an outright ban. So here's what it actually means for users.

As of this Sunday, September 20, the Trump administration will prohibit distribution and maintenance of TikTok through mobile app stores in the U.S.

What that means is new downloads and software updates will no longer be available via Apple's App Store or Android's Google Play Store but, for existing users, TikTok will be functional. If you want it on your phone, download the app before Sunday.

Technically, a lack of access to updates could limit TikTok's ability to release security patches, which could leave U.S. users less secure than they previously were.

As of November 12, the government's order bans internet hosting and content delivery network services in the U.S. from "enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S." That would make the app unusable for U.S. users.

While the TikTok ban technically starts from this Sunday, users who are already on the platform are unlikely to see any real impact until November 12, at least based on the U.S. Commerce Department's media release that was published on Friday.

The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, tweeted earlier today: "The ban is only of *new downloads* of TikTok, an outright ban will happen on 11/12 unless a deal is made." App statistics indicate App Store downloads of the TikTok app are already surging.

TikTok now the No. 2 app on App Store’s top charts. Download bonanza we’ll underway. pic.twitter.com/7ycx5l7kKG

— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) September 18, 2020

Enterprise software company Oracle has confirmed it is in talks to become a "trusted technology provider" with TikTok after the app's parent firm ByteDance rejected an offer by Microsoft. A November 12 deadline gives time for that deal to solidify.

The Commerce Department's release conceded the bans in the order could be lifted if Trump is confident "national security concerns posed by TikTok [are] to be resolved."

The president has accused TikTok of being a risk to the data of Americans due to its Chinese ownership, though it performs similarly to rival mobile services.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in an interview with Fox Business today that the TikTok situation is different to WeChat as the Oracle talks are ongoing.

Ross explained today: "The only real change as of Sunday will be [users] won't have access to improved apps, updated apps or maintenance. So if that were to continue over a long period of time there might be an overall degradation of services.

"But the basic TikTok will stay intact until November 12. If there's not a deal... then TikTok also would be, for all practical purposes, shut down," he added.

TikTok, which has repeatedly denied accusations made by U.S. politicians, currently has approximately 100 million monthly active users inside the U.S.

"This latest development certainly escalates an already tense war of words between the Trump administration and ByteDance," social media industry commentator Matt Navarra told Newsweek today, reacting to the TikTok news.

"However the social media drama is far from over. It's likely TikTok will seek injunctions or legal remedies to delay or stop the ban being implemented. And there is still time for a deal to be made between TikTok and Oracle, Walmart, or others.

According to Navarra, searches for "technical workarounds" are likely to spike as TikTok users hunt for ways to circumvent the ban, if it goes ahead in November.

He said: "In the short-term, this is a significant development which will generate a lot of headlines, upset teens, and improve the prospects for rival apps. In the longer term, it's much harder to predict. We're living in Trump's America. Anything is possible."

What does TikTok say?

In a statement sent to Newsweek today via email, a spokesperson said: "We disagree with the decision...and are disappointed that it stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the U.S. from November 12.

"In our proposal to the U.S. administration, we've already committed to unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and U.S. government oversight of U.S. data security. Further, an American technology provider would be responsible for maintaining and operating the TikTok network in the U.S., which would include all services and data serving U.S. consumers."

"We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods," it added.

This article was updated with comment from a TikTok spokesperson.

This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (L) and a US flag (R) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. TikTok restrictions in the U.S. will start on September 20. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty