This story has been updated.
Leaders in San Antonio’s tech sector reacted Friday to the news social media platform TikTok would be banned from app stores in the U.S. with disapproval, concerned over the precedent being set by the White House’s executive order.
Under the order, Americans would no longer be able to download TikTok or WeChat from iPhone or Android app stores. The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Friday morning it will be installing prohibitions on transactions relating to WeChat and TikTok to “safeguard the national security of the United States.” This move follows an executive order signed by Trump last month in which the president determined these apps capture too much information about U.S. users, leaving vulnerable data potentially available to the Chinese Communist Party for nefarious use.
Over the weekend, Trump gave his “blessing” to a deal that postpones the TikTok ban for a week, and a federal judge temporarily blocked the WeChat ban, media outlets reported.
As the creator of local startup and video-sharing platform SendSpark, founder Bethany Stachenfeld said she agrees that regulation might be in order, but banning these apps feels like overkill.
“I think [the government] should give [the Chinese companies that own TikTok and WeChat] regulations and boundaries, and then TikTok [and WeChat] should have the opportunity to operate within those,” she said. Stachenfeld said she feels Americans should be free to use the best technology out there, despite where it comes from.
Developed by Chinese engineers, TikTok has become a popular platform among teenagers in the U.S. Its short-form videos run the gamut from choreographed dance moves to video journal entries. TikTok is similar to but separate from an app in mainland China called Diyou, operated by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance.
But TikTok and ByteDance have been in the crosshairs of national investigations since 2019 with data privacy chief among the concerns raised.
In June, some TikTok users launched a coordinated effort to register en masse for the president’s rally in Tulsa, with no intention of ever attending. The Trump campaign announced demand for tickets had surpassed a million, though the venue for the campaign event was just 19,200. But attendance failed to reach even a third of the venue’s capacity.
The president made it known in July he intended to ban the app from the domestic market.
Often referred to as a “super app” in China, WeChat is a free messaging software that is used as an alternative to mobile texting. In mainland China, it’s used for transactions, transportation, navigation, and social networking, among other things. For people outside of China, it is one of the few electronic methods of keeping in touch with people living in the closely surveilled country.
David Heard, chief marketing officer for San Antonio-based SecureLogix, said his main concern is that regulating tech businesses by putting up geopolitical boundaries is a slippery slope.
Heard, who is also the CEO of local tech advocacy group Tech Bloc, said while he understands there are privacy concerns in using these apps, he doesn’t think building a national firewall border is the answer.
Users who already have downloaded these apps may continue being able to use the software. However, these restrictions may mean they cannot update the apps.
The only real change will be TikTok users won’t have access to improved apps, updated apps, upgraded apps, or maintenance, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business on Friday morning.
The prohibitions on WeChat are more substantial; under the ban, it will be illegal to host internet traffic associated with WeChat. The same will be true for TikTok as of Nov. 12 should it be unable to secure an American buyer, the department said.
There have been discussions about Microsoft or Oracle purchasing the American arm of ByteDance, which would resolve the administration’s national security concerns, with a deal deadline of Nov. 12. The deal given tentative approval by Trump involves TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart.
The announced prohibitions fulfill the president’s guidance and mitigate national security risks, the department said in a statement Friday. U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the move proves Trump will do everything in his power to guarantee national security and to protect Americans from the CCP.
“At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations,” Ross said.
In their statement, the department said the threats to national security that these apps pose are not identical but they are similar; each collects vast amounts of information and data from users including network activity, location, and browser history.
Co-founder of local startup incubator Geekdom Nick Longo said he believes the move was purely political, to make China look like bad guys that Trump is saving Americans from.
This move creates silos by installing digital protectionism, a dangerous path to start on, Longo said. Longo added that technology has done more to promote democracy than any other tool in history and that he disagrees with the move.
The president’s actions against TikTok left local social media starlets reeling last month after hearing they may no longer be able to use the platform for creative purposes.
Forcing TikTok to operate under an American name also could create a domino effect in which other countries stop using American-created social media platforms, Heard said.
“What’s to stop other countries from saying we’re not doing the same thing with Facebook?” he said.