TikTok and Free Enterprise

If you want to understand how far off their values the Republicans have gone to appease Donald Trump look no further than the controversy of TikTok. Donald Trump has ordered TikTok to close by September 15 unless a deal to sell itself to an American company is announced. Basically, Trump has ordered that the Chinese company relinquish its platform to “a very American company” or face expulsion from the American marketplace.

Trump also said that the U.S. government should get a percentage of the sales price. What that is and how it is legal remains unknown.

But government interference in a private company goes against the foundation of free enterprise championed by the Republicans.

Free enterprise allows a company to operate without government interference. The government generally stays out of the business of interfering in business competition unless a monopoly is identified.

In the case of TikTok the issue is not one of a monopoly but rather a national security problem that is yet to be proven. What Trump has done is put the owners of TikTok in an untenable position – being forced to sell their product or be shutdown.

By forcing TikTok to sell to an American company, the price is not the highest price the company can get for its produce, but, rather, the lowest price someone is willing to pay before TikTok is forced to shut down. Trump admits this, “the United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we’re making it possible.”

Microsoft has been rumored to be in talks to by TikTok. Bill Gates has called the potential TikTokMicrosoft deal a “poison chalice”. Twitter has also been rumored to be interested in a deal.

The CIA has said it has found no evidence of the Chinese government misusing the TikTok data for Chinese ambitions. Although Chinese-American geopolitics have been part of the national narrative, the fact remains that TikTok is not the only foreign platform that can be misused by any government.

Google has been dealing with issues with working with government agencies. American activists have demanded that Google stop working with the American government on immigration-related enforcement projects. Likewise, Google like other companies, have separate standards for data sharing according to government dictates in different countries. In some countries, Google has more stringent data-sharing restrictions than in the United States.

The internet has no international borders and thus each country is facing issues enforcing their national laws on internet-based companies. Some, like the more authoritarian ones demand that intellectual property be transferred to them before a company can operate in their borders. That was one of the issues in NAFTA 2.0 now known as the USMCA agreement that recently went live.

Trump has argued that TikTok may be forced to hand over the personal data it holds to the Chinese government. Data misuse in the United States is a recurring problem. Private companies like AT&T have paid fines to settle cases of illegally disclosing its consumer information to third-parties.

Facebook has admitted to releasing the personal data it holds over 51,000 times to U.S. government agencies, just in the second half of 2019. For the same period of time, China wasn’t on the top ten countries demanding personal data from Facebook. The top five were the United States, India, the UK, Germany and France. México was number ten on the list with 2,153 requests. [Facebook Transparency Project]

TikTok has said it intends to sue to keep from being forced to sell its platform. However, the company also seems to be willing to sell parts of its platform to an American company.

Regardless, the U.S. government attack on TikTok violates the very foundation of free enterprise that Republicans and many Americans embrace as the cornerstone of America’s business success.

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