When you’re shopping for the top three touch-screen laptops, you might see kids playing on social media app Tik Tok. TikTok is a viral video sharing app that is frequently used by children and is a common target of the president’s ire.
Donald Trump has openly sparred with China in the past over the authoritarian regime’s control of business interests that operate in the US. This feud boiled over on Saturday when Trump brokered a deal that saw the creation of a new company, TikTok Global, that would operate the popular app in the US.
Trump has threatened to ban the app in the US if its parent company, ByteDance, didn’t cede control of it in the US. ByteDance is headquartered in China, meaning that the Chinese government could compel them to turn over user data. This could, in turn, result in the Chinese government spying on US citizens. Concerns over this spying were Trump’s stated reasoning for wanting TikTok turned over to a US company.
The TikTok Global deal on Saturday saw the creation of a new company to oversee TikTok’s operations in the US. Bizarrely, Wal-Mart and tech company Oracle split the ownership of the company with ByteDance.
ByteDance owns eighty percent of the company and Oracle and Wal-Mart jointly own the other twenty. This hardly helps to stop confidential information from being turned over to Beijing, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, is an outspoken and ardent Trump supporter. Many of Trump’s opponents have accused the president of targeting TikTok as part of a shakedown to get his ally into an ownership position.
Essentially, critics argue, Trump used the office of the president to enrich his buddy. This could explain why Oracle, an ‘unknown’ in the social media market, beat out massive competitors like Microsoft for ownership of the Chinese social media app.
In the short term, this deal has allowed TikTok to continue operating in the US. Had things not panned out, the app would have been banned from US app stores and would have no longer been able to be downloaded. While many have criticized the White House’s role in this deal as being a “grift,” the end result for users is an essentially unchanged app experience.
However, lingering concerns over the role of Chinese soft power in the West hang over the deal. Security experts claim Trump’s deal with ByteDance did little to check the rise of Chinese influence over Western cultures. However, what it did do is line a Trump supporter’s pockets and show what Trump is willing to do to shake down the opposition.