TikTok gambit hits a wall

The social media app TikTok has been downloaded more than 175 million times in the U.S. alone since its global launch in 2018. But now it’s going viral for reasons other than teens dancing or cooking in pajamas.

President Donald Trump recently announced that the U.S. government would ban TikTok on Sept. 15 or force the company to divest its U.S. holdings, citing national security concerns. The Chinese company ByteDance, which operates under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party, runs the app. Although ByteDance claims it doesn’t share data on U.S. users, the CCP can access such information at its discretion.

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Microsoft has announced an interest in purchasing the U.S. operations of TikTok and has pledged to keep user data inside this country if it does so.

This is a potential win-win. Acquiring such an established social media platform could help Microsoft, currently valued at more than $1.5 trillion, compete with other social media tech giants like Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) and secure user data at the same time.

But the situation is evolving daily. Trump last Monday suggested that while he supports Microsoft’s gambit, he wants the U.S. Treasury to take a cut of any deal made, with either Microsoft or China footing the bill. Such pay-for-play tactics are not helpful and are being called “mafia-like” by some media outlets, as forcing a sale and then demanding a cut of the sales price seems extortive.

“I did say that, ‘If you buy it … a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States, because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,’” Trump said.

The primary goal should remain protecting consumer data, whether that happens by banning the app or a deal reached with Microsoft or another company. Trump should not muddy the waters further.

It’s also worth noting that considerable numbers of teens have used the platform to heckle Trump, including in June when they encouraged users to reserve tickets to Trump’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally and not show up. It’s unclear whether this had any impact, though the rally was not well attended, contrary to the campaign’s expectations.

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Whether this figured into Trump’s targeting of the app is unknown, but either way the security risks and ongoing tensions with China regarding data and intellectual property theft certainly merited action.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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