The administration is already taking a wider scope to review Tencent’s activities in the United States beyond WeChat. The government has sent letters asking a series of questions about data policies to several companies in which Tencent has partial ownership, including Spotify, Riot Games and Epic Games, the maker of the popular game Fortnite, according to people familiar with the situation.
Mr. Ross portrayed the threat from Chinese apps in stark terms, likening it to a window that allows Beijing to peer into the everyday lives of Americans.
“What they collect are data on locality, data on what you are streaming toward, what your preferences are, what you are referencing, every bit of behavior that the American side is indulging in becomes available to whoever is watching on the other side,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to squelch.”
In its announcement, the Commerce Department said both WeChat and TikTok collected information from their users including location data, network activity and browsing histories. As Chinese companies, they are also subject to China’s policy of “civil-military fusion” and mandatory cooperation with Chinese intelligence services, it said.
Cybersecurity experts have debated the extent to which the bans would address national security threats. Many other Chinese-owned companies gather data from mobile users in the United States, as do Facebook, Google and other non-Chinese services.
TikTok has been downloaded nearly 200 million times in the United States, about 9 percent of the app’s downloads outside China, according to Sensor Tower, an app analytics firm. WeChat has been downloaded nearly 22 million times in the United States since 2014, or about 7 percent of its downloads outside China.
Ahead of the Sunday deadline, people in the United States rushed to download WeChat. The app’s rank in the chart of top free iPhone apps soared to No. 100 from 1,385 on Friday, according to Sensor Tower.