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Sell or be banned, Trump tells TikTok – and give the US government a cut

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US President Donald Trump has moved from wanting to ban TikTok to approving a potential sale to Microsoft — stating that the US government wants to be paid for the deal.

The president has given TikTok until 15 September to sell its US operations to a US company. If TikTok doesn’t complete a sales deal by this date, it will be banned in America.

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“It’ll close down on September 15 unless Microsoft or somebody else is able to buy it and work out a deal, an appropriate deal, so the Treasury of the United States gets a lot of money,” Trump said according to Bloomberg.

“The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we’re making it possible,” he said.

However, this statement has raised eyebrows for some.

Axios’ Dan Primack has even gone so far as to say that this stance skates”very close to announcing extortion”.

ByteDance, a Chinese company, currently owns TikTok.

White House officials and Trump cite concerns that US citizens’ data could end up with the Chinese government.

At the same time, some reports view it as an economic and political retaliation to China.

TikTok, along with many other Chinese apps, was banned in India.

While the Indian government also cited national security concerns, India and China are in the midst of a border dispute.

TikTok vows transparency amid concerns

While there are legitimate concerns about how much information TikTok gathers from users, the company denies sharing this data with governments.

Privacy and data harvesting concerns don’t only extend to Chinese apps, however.

For example, multiple issues emerged during the rise of the US video conferencing service Zoom. Facebook has also faced scrutiny for privacy and cybersecurity breaches over the years.

TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer said that the company is under greater scrutiny due to its Chinese ownership.

“The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so. Yet, we have received even more scrutiny due to the company’s Chinese origins,” Mayer said in a statement on 29 July.

“We accept this and embrace the challenge of giving peace of mind through greater transparency and accountability. We believe it is essential to show users, advertisers, creators, and regulators that we are responsible and committed members of the American community that follows US laws.”

Meanwhile, the company has also committed to making its moderation policies and algorithm public. It also encoured other tech companies to do the same.

However, Mayer said that US rivals are targeting TikTok to stifle competition. He specifically named Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the US Congress last week as part of an antitrust hearing into US Big Tech. Congress’ subcommittee accused Facebook of anti-competitive behaviour.

Mayer echoed this sentiment.

“Let’s focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Facebook – disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US,” he said.

Mayer said that the closure of TikTok would result in American advertisers having fewer choices.

Microsoft in talks to buy TikTok

Microsoft has reportedly been in talks with TikTok about an acquisition over several weeks. But Microsoft confirmed this on 2 August after the threat of a TikTok ban.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke with Trump regarding the deal. This meeting resulted in Trump’s move from a ban to a ‘sell-or-else’ scenario.

“Microsoft will move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020,” Microsoft said in a statement.

“During this process, Microsoft looks forward to continuing dialogue with the United States Government, including with the President.”

Feature image: TikTok

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