Tick tock, tick tock, TikTok.
Time is running out on the popular video-sharing app in the United States, at least under its current Chinese ownership.
Last week President Donald Trump, citing concerns that ByteDance could hand over data on the app’s American users to the Chinese government, said he would soon ban the app in this country. That hasn’t happened — yet — but ByteDance has reportedly been given a Sept. 15 deadline to sell TikTok to an approved buyer, and Microsoft is said to be in advanced talks to acquire the app.
The security concerns are plausible. Even in this nation, with a far more robust tradition of respect for personal expression, the federal government is engaged in a multi-year dispute with Big Tech over access to the personal data compiled on users.
Americans, wisely or otherwise, have largely ceded their privacy to tech firms. Amazon knows what you buy, Facebook knows who you associate with, Google knows what you are curious about — and they profit handsomely from all the data they’ve compiled.
The government wants to know all that too, or at least want to be able to know that. If Washington wants that info, Beijing is hardly likely to say it’s none of its business. TikTok says it doesn’t share information with the Chinese government on the 100 million Americans who have downloaded the app, but it seems likely Beijing can get that data if and when it wants it.
Concern over that issue crosses party lines, with Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, among those applauding a hard line on TikTok.
There is another theory, however, for why Trump has TikTok in his sights. The platform played a passive role in the organized effort to make false reservations for his June 20th rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. TikTok users supposedly reserved hundreds of thousands of tickets to the Tulsa event; while the effort did not prevent anybody who wanted to go from getting in, it did sucker the Trump campaign into boasting of a million reservations, a claim that amplified the embarrassment of all those empty seats.
Trump has wavered between threatening a complete ban on the app and forcing a sale to a U.S. firm, with Microsoft the leading contender. Acquiring TikTok would give the software giant an opening into online video that it has been unable to forge on its own, and video is regarded as a crucial missing piece for Microsoft’s artificial intelligence projects.
More troubling is Trump’s assertion this week that the federal government has a financial claim on the proceeds of a TikTok sale. The notion that the government can force the sale and seize the proceeds beyond established taxation should draw more push back from free-market advocates than it has. But, of course, the major advocates of market theory in Congress fear Trump more than they honor their principles.