Feds Push to Implement App Store Ban on Chinese App WeChat

Icons for the smartphone apps TikTok and WeChat are seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing on Aug. 7. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

(CN) — The Justice Department asked a federal judge Friday not to stand in the way of its bid to stop Americans from downloads of the mobile messaging app WeChat.

A messaging, social media and electronic payment app owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings, WeChat reportedly has over 1 billion users worldwide and 19 million active daily users in the U.S. Acting on August executive orders from President Donald Trump, the U.S. Commerce Department said it would be illegal for the app to appear for download in U.S. app store platforms beginning Sunday, Sept. 20.

After a group of users filed suit in San Francisco, however, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler agreed Saturday to put the new restrictions on hold.

The Justice Department argued Friday in a court filing that Beeler should let its ban take effect while the case advances, saying the Chinese government is using the app to collect and use personal data on Americans for its own purposes.

Beeler’s “injunction permits the continued, unfettered use of WeChat, a mobile application that the Executive Branch has determined constitutes a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” the filing states.  

The government says the U.S. will suffer irreparable harm if WeChat remains available for download. 

As tensions ramp up between Beijing and Washington, Chinese-based apps such as TikTok and WeChat have become the recent focal point of the Trump administration due to purported user-privacy and national-security concerns. 

“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order states.  

The administration says the app is also a minefield of disinformation. 

“This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” Trump’s order says. “In addition, the application captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”

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