Trump, TikTok and a New Era of Political Supremacy Over Technology
A TikTok US-acquisition will only set dangerous precedents of big-tech monopolies and how government can destroy businesses
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that Trump has been threatening to ban TikTok in the US for quite some time now.
In events leading up to the past week, the president pretty vocally stated that the viral social media platform, TikTok would be pulled out from App Stores due to its national security threats.
Though over time, Trump swayed from his decision and was open to the idea of TikTok being bought by an American company. A lot of this has to do with Microsoft showing a keen interest in acquiring TikTok.
Now, a few days back, Trump signed executive orders to ban TikTok and WeChat, two massively popular Chinese owned apps. Setting a 45 day period to prohibit transactions with ByteDance and Tencent, the parent companies of TikTok and WeChat has sent shockwaves in the tech and advertising industries as well as among customers.
Though Microsoft, still has time to close its deal, Trump’s move doesn’t seem like an effort to protect national sovereignty. If anything he’s only displaying how political supremacy can influence or rather dictate technology.
Trump’s Decision To Ban Chinese Apps Is Not About National Security. He Has A Political Agenda.
When it comes to user data privacy and mining, TikTok is no worse from Facebook or other popular social media platforms. Also, neither the TikTok owners claim to be sharing the data with the Chinese government nor anyone has been able to prove this with facts.
Trump, has been openly citing India’s example(which has recently removed over 50 Chinese apps, including TikTok) for the ban. While it’s understandable that the recent border tensions with China might have played a big role in TikTok’s India ban, Trump’s move is just another stone in his anti-Chinese rhetoric.
Perhaps, he considers TikTok a threat in his re-election rid considering how only recently, teens were able to slump a rally in Tusla. But an outright ban could cost him Chinese votes.
Trump’s motives seem far more political and even personal. Unlike India, he’s forcing a sale of TikTok which by all means, looks like a bid to establish political control over technology.
If things didn’t stoop lower yet, Trump’s also ensured that Microsoft hands over key money to the US treasury for facilitating the TikTok. This only puts him in bad limelight for grossly abusing his powers and acting as a landlord of the United States.
The buyout or ban, whichever goes through, would set a bad precedent of government intervention in technological decisions. Typically, such privacy and app-specific decisions should rather be left to the tech giants, Google, and Apple(who already enforce their own monopoly).
TikTok is perhaps the first social media platform outside of the United States, which has challenged the supremacy of Facebook. A ban at this hour is actually a gift in disguise for Facebook, whose just quietly launched its TikTok clone Instagram Reels. This isn’t a good sign for global democracy.
WeChat, the lesser popular of the two, is the second app to face the brunt from the President. For the uninitiated, it's amongst the most used apps by Chinese people living in America for communicating back home. From chat and payments to news and bookings, it's used for all sorts of daily tasks and is an integral part of lives.
A ban or restriction on a selective number of apps isn’t just killing the whole idea of the internet but it’ll also ruffle the feathers of customers. Significant number of people would be forced to quickly switch to alternative means of communication.
Such bizarre moves will only discourage foreign emerging businesses from flourishing in the United States. Trump through his executive powers is only displaying how big-tech companies can kill their competitors and increase their own powers.
Microsoft Would Do No Good To TikTok But Only Further Enforce Big-Tech Monopoly
When Microsoft showcased its interest in TikTok, the world was taken aback. Microsoft for long has carved its own niche for enterprise software and has largely stayed away from social media.
So, if this surprising deal with the bite-sized video platform goes through, it’ll certainly be the biggest coup of the decade. But going by the current decision to buy TikTok’s operations in the US, Canada, Australia, and NewZealand, it won’t be an easy road.
Splitting and managing only a part of TikTok would have its own set of challenges and technical complexities. Will they roll out a separate TikTok app in a few countries? Or would they simply ensure that their customer's data isn’t sent to China? What happens to the super-secret TikTok recommendation algorithm?
Microsoft has an uphill task in front of it but they don’t have a great history with acquisitions.
From acquiring Skype, which has almost disappeared with the emergence of Zoom to a failure in capitalizing on Nokia’s business, Microsoft’s record isn’t the best.
Barring LinkedIn and GitHub, Microsoft has largely failed to leverage out of its deals.
Now, by entering into the social media world, Microsoft might have set its hopes on becoming a giant, but in Bill Gates's own words, its a poisoned chalice. For one, content moderation and recommendation is a totally different ball game.
Microsoft will find it tough to fight misinformation(just look at Facebook and Twitter, who’re still combating) on a platform that already has an abundance of it.
Managing political ads on TikTok, especially with the elections just around the corner would pose a challenge to Microsoft. Their problems won’t cease to exist as the deal which is handed over to them on a plate by Trump, could be further marred by politics in the future.
As the clock to mid-September clicks, it’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out. Perhaps, Trump might just take a U-turn if this seems like a threat to his re-election.
Without a doubt, the Chinese apps ban will have repercussions and the damage could be collateral. Apple might suffer a huge blow in its phone sales within China if WeChat, the most popular app goes obsolete.