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WeChat sees downloads surge before US ban

HONG KONG: Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeChat messaging app has seen a surge in downloads in the United States since Friday after Washington confirmed it would push ahead with a planned ban of the app, data showed on Tuesday.

The US Department of Commerce issued an order requiring Apple and Alphabet’s Google to remove WeChat for downloads on national security grounds, but a US judge blocked the move on Sunday. The department said on Monday it will challenge the order.

WeChat was installed about 54,000 times between Friday and Saturday, 28 times the 1,900 downloads seen in the same two-day period a week before, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower. It said WeCom, an office collaboration app, also saw a jump in downloads in the United States over that period.

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Washington has launched a series of measures in recent months cracking down on Chinese tech firms and apps, citing national security grounds, as the world’s two largest economies butt heads on issues ranging from trade and technology to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction on Monday that blocked the department’s order, which would also have barred otherUS transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the US. 

“Prohibiting the identified transactions is necessary to protect the national security of the United States, and the department expects to soon seek relief from this order,” the Commerce Department said.

Beeler said WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim”.

Tencent, which has denied its apps pose a national security risk, has said updates of the app for existing American users may be negatively affected should Apple and Google remove WeChat from their stores.

WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines messaging, social media, payment functions and other services and boasts more than a billion users globally.

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WeCom, which was rebranded from Tencent’s office collaboration app WeChat Work only days after President Donald Trump first said he would ban it in August, was installed 58,000 times in the United States on Friday and Saturday, 193 times the 300 downloads it saw over the same period a week prior, according to Sensor Tower estimates.

After downloading WeCom, users can now link their WeChat account to it and add their WeChat contacts, a Reuters test showed. WeCom users can then message, create chat groups, and even receive virtual money from WeChat friends without their WeChat contacts having to download WeCom.

  • Reuters

AF China Bond