Donald Trump Wants Microsoft To Buy TikTok. And He Wants A Piece Of The Action.
Last Friday, Donald Trump announced that he was going to ban the video social media app TikTok, for reasons, which he claimed were national security. For heavens sake, TikTok harvests user data, and unlike good patriotic American tech giants, TikTok might be sending that data right to the Chinese Communist Party instead of to American advertisers! The company and the Chinese government both deny that and say that, like any tech company except Wonkette, TikTok's owner ByteDance simply wants to direct ads to users.
Still, Trump is mad at TikTok, and after initially saying he'd oppose it being taken over by Microsoft, he told Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Sunday that he'd give ByteDance and Microsoft until September 15 to arrange the sale, or TikTok would for sure be banned in the USA. And then Trump hummed what he still thinks is a patriotic Springsteen anthem.
Because there was still room for things to get a lot stupider, they did. Trump had a new thought, which he shared with reporters Monday, pointing out that it had come from his gargantuan deal-thinking-of brain:
The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we're making it possible. [...] It would come from the sale, which nobody else would be thinking about but me, but that's the way I think, and I think it's very fair.
We suppose Trump has a bit of a point: Nobody else would try to force the sale of a private foreign company to a private US company and then demand a cut for the US Treasury. As a BBC business analyst says, with lovely understatement, "The US Treasury has not explained how this extraordinary demand for a cut of a private transaction would work."
We're wondering what sort of back-channel arrangement would end up with some of that hypothetical money in the Trump Organization's accounts. Guess we'll have to wait 15 minutes for a leak, or a few months for a tell-all book.
As Mike Masnick argues at TechDirt, there are only about a million and six things that stink about Trump's edicts on TikTok, even before this latest grifty fantasy. The security concerns may be overblown (or at least no more horrifying than the amount of access big companies already have to our data), and forcing the sale of a software product may be constitutionally dicey, since software is protected as speech by the First Amendment. Not that mere technicalities like the law matter all that much to Trump. Nor does "consistency," since we're A) supposed to be very worried about the consolidation of Big Tech companies; but also 2) supposed to now be rooting for Microsoft to get bigger.
In a follow-up, Masnick notes that Microsoft and ByteDance may just go ahead with the deal because Microsoft gets a bargain, and ByteDance doesn't want its product's value to go entirely into the toilet because of a ban, legal or no. But now, with his characteristically mafiosal comments, Trump has made the deal harder, not easier.
For the record, Masnick points out,
First of all, people have been discussing the possibility of ByteDance having to sell TikTok to get away from questions about its Chinese ownership since long before Trump ever heard of TikTok. So the idea that it's only because of him is just yet another one of his narcissistic fever dreams.
As for the idea that the US government should get its beak wet from any deal because it's "making it possible," well that's just gangster talk, like the threat to burn down a restaurant "makes it possible" for the place to stay in business. Extortion is generally not something the "president" of the USA should be suggesting. [A wild Libertarian breaks into the post to yell about all taxation, and is dragged out by the cat]
Worst of all, from a purely transactional standpoint, supposedly the source of Trump's "genius," Masnick notes that simply floating the idea "gives the Chinese government a ton of ammunition" to oppose the deal, and by golly, that's exactly what happened:
The state-run China Daily newspaper said on Tuesday that Beijing would not accept the "theft" of a Chinese technology company.
It also warned in an editorial that China had "plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab".
Says Masnick, the suggestion that the US ought to take over a Chinese company flies in the face of this country's repeated complaints that China is stealing US intellectual property.
[Giving] the Chinese government a talking point to argue that the US government "does the same thing" is just a huge diplomatic stupidity.
Well sure, but Donald Trump's entire trade agenda is a massive diplomatic and economic stupidity. Why should TikTok be any exception?
[TechDirt / BBC News/ TechDirt]
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.