Why The US TikTok Sale Was More About Politics Than Protecting Its Users
TikTok has been bought by the US mega–tech–company Oracle.
But the new deal hasn’t come without controversy or input from President Donald Trump, who threatened to ban it in the US, in order to force the sale.
How did the globally successful video app get themselves into this situation, and what does this new deal mean for the TikTok security risks that Trump was so worried about?
Back in August, Trump told TikTok to either sell their US operations to a US company or he would ban the social media app completely by September 20th this year.
Trump’s concern was over security risks he saw in TikTok’s handling of user data.
The sale deadline left Chinese owner ByteDance a huge task, as US tech giants began bidding for their share in the app that’s now worth over 100 billion US dollars.
The worry over TikTok’s data mining has been a legitimate concern for a while, but the move to ban it has left some people feeling like it was more of a political stunt than anything else.
Dr Belinda Barnet: “Trump, I think had an issue with China and with TikTok specifically, that played into that decision.”
That’s Dr Belinda Barnet, from Swinburne University. She told me that Trump’s concern about data safety, is merely a backdrop to a much more political debate.
Two days before the September sale deadline, a US multinational tech company called Oracle won the US TikTok business.
But Who Is Oracle?
Oracle was founded 43 years ago. It’s a big company, but not as big as its some of its Silicon Valley neighnours.
It’s still worth billions of dollars in software technology and cloud engineering but doesn’t have much experience with social media, which has left some people questioning if the company’s success in the TikTok deal was political.
Co-founder and Chairman of Oracle, Larry Ellison, is a Trump supporter who told Forbes, “I support him and want him to do well”. Ellison even threw a fundraiser at his Palm Springs compound for the president back in February.
Dr. Barnet isn’t totally surprised by the deal, but still thinks Microsoft – who was the strongest contender – should’ve won.
BB: “Microsoft was the clear front runner … Microsoft arguably has far more kudos with respect to data privacy and security, and all of the technology surrounding that, and more experience than Oracle … It’s got much deeper pockets than Oracle and it’s also been in the social media space before.”
Microsoft announced in an official statement that they, “would have made significant changes to ensure the [TikTok] service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety and combatting misinformation”.
In other words, they’d planned to actually make TikTok safer, and ByteDance said no.
People are arguing that the clear winners here are Trump and Oracle. And that the real opportunity to solve a national security risk has been missed, for the possibility of another political ally for the president.
The New York Times Journalist Joe Nocera, wrote that he can hardly imagine a situation that is a greater violation of American capitalism. And that this is a clear example of Trump trampling over the government’s role to be an impartial referee when it comes to business deals.
What Does This Actually Mean For The Future Of TikTok?
BB: “I think Oracle has got quite a project on its hands. From what I’ve heard, TikTok are handing over the user base but not the algorithm, so Oracle will have a massive job at separating out the users from the algorithm … Hopefully the end users in the USA won’t actually see any disruption of service.”
While TikTok did face a real risk of being sanctioned by the US, the Oracle deal now means that’s unlikely to happen. And ultimately, Trump’s bluff about banning the app completely, has shown just how political the whole scare was.