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Enlarge / There's no ban on WeChat in the US right now, the DOJ says, which is true—but that's supposed to change, somehow, in the immediate future, and nobody knows how.Budrul Chukrut | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

Three days before a ban on the use of China-owned app WeChat in the United States is supposed to take effect, the Trump administration still hasn't said what specifically is being banned—only that individuals will not be penalized for using the app, despite the alleged threat it presents to national security.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross does "not intend to take actions that would target persons or groups whose only connection with WeChat is their use or downloading of the app to convey personal or business information between users, or otherwise define the relevant transactions in such a way that would impose criminal or civil liability on such users," attorneys for the Department of Justice wrote in a court filing (PDF).

Users of WeChat may find services "directly or indirectly impaired" by whatever measures the administration does end up imposing, the filing continued, but "use and downloading of the app for this limited purpose will not be a defined transaction."

The filing comes in response to a petition a group of US-based WeChat users filed in federal court in August seeking an injunction on the ban.

The… ban?

President Donald Trump signed two very similar executive orders in August targeting WeChat and TikTok. The TikTok saga appears to have resulted in a deal with Oracle, giving the US firm a significant minority stake in TikTok.

The WeChat ban, however, remains much more nebulous. WeChat is owned by Tencent, an absolutely massive Chinese conglomerate with full or partial ownership stakes in a huge array of Chinese and US technology, media, gaming, and entertainment firms. It is China's everything app: where a US user might use Uber, GrubHub, Venmo, Facebook Messenger, and Google or Apple Pay in the course of a morning, a user in China would do everything within WeChat.

China's government, however, relies on this ubiquity for surveillance and censorship purposes inside China. The executive order alleges that WeChat captures "vast swaths of information" from its users (as nearly all mobile apps do), and that because of its ties to China's government, that data collection "threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans personal and proprietary inRead More – Source

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arstechnica

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