August 5, 2020

TikTok

Microsoft is in talks to buy parts of TikTok [from ByteDance], a forced sale after [President Donald] Trump threatened to ban the Chinese-owned video app… Trump said Monday to reporters that the U.S. ‘should get a very large percentage of that price because we’re making it possible… we want and we think we deserve to have a big percentage of that price coming to America, coming to the Treasury.’” AP News

Many on both sides have concerns about TikTok’s privacy and data security practices:

“Researchers have raised serious privacy and data security concerns about [TikTok] for years. In early 2019, TikTok paid a $5.7 million fine to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for illegally ‘collecting and exposing locations of young children, as well as failing to delete information on underage children when instructed to do so.’ TikTok was under similar investigations in the United Kingdom and India… in February, Tiktok reportedly took advantage of an iPhone system loophole, enabling the app to access any data an iPhone user copies to his clipboard without the user’s knowledge…

“Zhang Fuping, ByteDance’s vice president, is the head of the company’s Chinese Communist Party committee, which is part of the company’s governance structure… Banning TikTok is the right policy to protect not just America’s national security interests but also safeguard the privacy and freedom of expression of millions of Americans.”
Helen Raleigh, The Federalist

“[Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian notes that ByteDance] assisted Chinese government efforts to identify and locate Uighur women of childbearing age… ByteDance is required by law to hand over any data to the Chinese government if requested. And they have essentially no power to fight back… according to China’s security and intelligence laws, if you are the subject of this request, if you have to comply with the Chinese government request to hand over data information and provide assistance, you are also required to keep that assistance a secret…

“[Similarly] Zoom is definitely an American company, but they have 700 research and development employees in China. All 700 of those employees are subject to China’s intelligence and cybersecurity laws, which means that any one of them could be approached and asked to give assistance. I’m not saying this has happened, but I’m saying that the laws make this possible—they could put in a back door, or they could give any kind of data that they have access to to the Chinese government… Despite the perhaps lack of strategy in how the administration appears to be rolling out some of these initiatives, they’re not wrong to view the Chinese Communist Party as a very serious threat to global freedom.”
Mary Harris, Slate

Both sides also oppose the US government taking a cut of any deal:

“Having an experienced U.S. firm control the popular platform is preferable to shutting it down or accepting the current security risks. How this promising outcome occurred, however, presents plenty of concerns on its own… The president has in essence conducted a shakedown, threatening a shutdown and then providing his blessing to a private business deal once it pleased him. This is an affront to free enterprise generally. It’s also an affront to the American enterprise of preserving an open outlook toward the world.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“U.S. businesses have long complained that Chinese officials demand they hand over technology to joint-venture partners to access China’s markets. Perhaps the biggest victory from the President’s trade agreement with China is that it prohibits such extortion. But now hawks in China are citing Mr. Trump’s statements to assert that America’s national-security policies are motivated by mercantilism…

“Chinese claims of moral equivalency are false. The Trump Administration is threatening to block TikTok for national-security reasons while Beijing has long blocked U.S. platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Google that don’t bow to its censorship. But Mr. Trump’s bluster about a finder's fee sends the wrong message about America’s rule of law and its openness to foreign investment. One risk now is that ByteDance will come under pressure from Chinese nationalists to scrap a Microsoft deal. This would hurt American users, big-tech competition and U.S. interests abroad.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

From the Right

Banning TikTok or coercing its sale would only address a tiny portion of the problem, not to mention the questionable legality of various potential moves and the chilling implications of a U.S. president unilaterally forbidding a venue where people gather online, access information, and exercise freedom of speech…

“It wouldn’t even address a major portion of the very China-specific threats getting so much attention today, since there are other avenues in all cases. Only a universal set of enforced rules for platforms—and the companies behind them that trade in data and interpolated insights about their users—can address legitimate government security concerns and give users confidence that their online lives are free from harmful snooping or manipulation through opaque algorithms. Today’s focus on TikTok is an opportunity for U.S. activists and policymakers to begin taking on the broader challenges that have been ignored for too long.”
Graham Webster, Slate

“One of the striking parts of the whole deal would be that the US government, which says it worries about the reach and power of its homegrown tech giants, is now actively encouraging a deal that would supersize one of those giants

“If you were worried about the concentration of tech power in the US, you wouldn’t add the most consequential new social media platform in years to a company that made $44 billion in profits — four Amazons — last year… If anything, you could argue that a TikTok sale to Microsoft makes it even less likely that we’ll see real antitrust movement against Google or Facebook. If that deal goes through, both companies can credibly argue that TikTok is now an even fiercer rival because it has Microsoft behind it.”
Peter Kafka, Vox

From the Right

“Last spring, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States forced the Chinese owners of Grindr, the gay-dating app, to sell to their controlling stake in the company over data privacy concerns. No doubt, the user privacy concerns implicated by Grindr were more sensitive than the risk posed by TikTok, but the comparison with Grindr is only to show that the U.S. government’s emergency economic powers here can be wielded legitimately. Foreign agents are already required to register with the government, and the principle that individuals and entities with close ties to foreign powers should be treated differently is not new. Subjecting them to a different set of rules is not the same as censorship…

“As long as Beijing views TikTok as a Chinese company, this debate remains one primarily about national security, not competition or regulating U.S.-based tech giants.”
Jimmy Quinn, National Review

“The U.S. doesn’t have to pay close attention to every Chinese company on the internet, but the government does have to deal with Chinese entities that would have such broad and unfettered access (a practice by the way that the Chinese Communist Party would never permit any foreign company to do in China) to the information of U.S. citizens…

“The move [to purchase TikTok] certainly makes sense for Microsoft. It doesn’t own a major social networking platform and it has the money to implement security reforms that would mitigate the threats posed by China. Moreover, it would actually make the U.S. social networking space more competitive. Beijing, of course, is not happy about that prospect. It is characterizing the potential purchase of TikTok operations in the U.S. as 'theft.' It isn’t. And, coming from a regime notorious for actual intellectual property theft, the characterization is laughable.
James Carafano, Fox News

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