There might be a small reprieve for embattled Chinese social media companies that would have been removed from the US market this month. Although there’s still some confusion over the exact fate that awaits TikTok and its deal with Oracle and Walmart, there is less ambiguity with what will happen with WeChat. A US judge ruled that the US Commerce Department cannot order Google or Apple to remove the instant messaging app from their app stores but this victory for owner Tencent is by no means final.
Like TikTok, WeChat’s ‘sin” is its potential to be used to compromise national security because of its large Chinese user base and ownership by Chinese tech giant Tencent. The US government’s interest in WeChat, however, went beyond just the messaging aspect and even took aim at the service’s ability to send or receive money between users.
California District Judge Laurel Beeler, however, ruled that such a ban would adversely affect First Amendment rights of users in the US. WeChat, argued an alliance of users that filed the lawsuit against the US government, is the only means by which many Chinese American citizens are able to communicate with family and friends in mainland China where the likes of Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp are banned.
The judge’s preliminary injunction also blocks the US government from making any transactions that would degrade WeChat’s quality of service in the US. The latter was reportedly the government’s strategy to render the service practically unusable to effectively push users away from it. That also includes blocking the service’s direct peer-to-peer money transfer functionality.
The halt on WeChat’s ban, however, is only temporary and the US Commerce Department already made it known they are preparing for a long legal battle. At this point, it remains to be seen if they will use the same tactics that brought TikTok to its knees, though it might be more difficult to pull it off now that First Amendment rights have become part of the messy picture.