Update, Aug. 7 (06:40 a.m. ET): A survey conducted in China shows 678 thousand smartphone users would get a different phone if WeChat was banned from the App Store there.
Overnight, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting any U.S. individual or company from doing business with ByteDance (the owner of TikTok), and WeChat.
From the order:
The order will take effect in 45 days, and prohibits the following:
As the order notes, WeChat is used by some people in the U.S. In China, however, WeChat is an absolutely fundamental part of life in the country. As Android Central's Alex Dobie notes:
It can't be overstated how massive WeChat is in China. It's used for *everything*. Not just chat, but payments, utility bills, plane and train tickets. A phone without WeChat in China is more useless than an Android device without GMS in the West. It's that big of a deal.It can't be overstated how massive WeChat is in China. It's used for *everything*. Not just chat, but payments, utility bills, plane and train tickets. A phone without WeChat in China is more useless than an Android device without GMS in the West. It's that big of a deal.— Alex Dobie (@alexdobie) August 7, 2020August 7, 2020
It remains unclear at this stage how far-reaching this executive order is. It could, in time lead to both WeChat and TikTok being removed from Apple's App Store on iOS in the U.S. (unless TikTok is sold to Microsoft in the meantime), and there's certainly a possibility it could affect Apple in China too. According to the announcement, the definition of a "transaction" will be clarified by the Secretary of Commerce at the end of the 45-day grace period. As Nikkei Asian Review reports:
As mentioned, it's unclear how this could affect Apple's dealings in China, and whether the EO extends to dealings abroad or only on U.S. soil. This is extremely important because if Apple somehow wound up prohibited from letting WeChat on the App Store in China, the iPhone would be made effectively useless in the country. 99% of smartphones in China use WeChat, not only to communicate and interact through social media but to make payments, pay bills, purchase travel tickets, and more. As Dobie again notes, "A phone without WeChat in China is more useless than an Android device without GMS [Google Mobile Services] in the West." It would be akin to Apple shipping an iPhone in the U.S. without Safari, iMessage, Mail, and Apple Pay, even this comparison doesn't really do the scale of the potential problem justice.
You can rest assured that lawyers at Apple, WeChat, TikTok, and more are furiously poring over this latest executive order trying to figure out just exactly what this could mean. Until the exact reach of the executive order becomes clearer, a lot if this will remain hypothetical, but there is no doubt that if Apple somehow wound up prevented from doing business with WeChat to the extent it was removed from the App Store, it would be fatal for Apple and the iPhone in China.
Update, Aug. 7 (06:40 a.m. ET) New survey reveals catastrophic impact of a WeChat ban in China
A survey conducted by a Chinese finance media outlet asked Chinese people on social media what they would do if WeChat was banned from Apple's App Store. 38.6k said they would uninstall the app, but more than 678k said they would buy a different phone, revealing just how important WeChat is in China.
Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.
Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9
No app needed. You can access WeChat from any browser.
The order ... prohibits ... any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person,....
Accessing from a web browser would be fine in China, but probably more trouble than it is worth with so many excellent alternatives. In the US however, that language is troubling. Imagine the potential for IP addresses of individuals accessing WeChat being traced and shared with the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. Wouldn't happen here? 4 years ago I would have agreed.
I think the order has more to do with the app, not the website. More security risk in downloading an app vs. visiting a website. We will have to wait for clarification.
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