For months we’ve heard about the concerns that TikTok’s Chinese data servers could be storing information from users. This uneasiness has ranged from privacy worries to genuine fears over national security.
It’s understandable. Nobody wants the Chinese to have America data on their hands, no matter how innocent their intentions. Add to the fact that so many of TikTok’s users are kids and teens, and the data concerns become even more worrisome. For what it’s worth, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, claims that none of TikTok’s data is subject to Chinese law and that the data lives on servers outside of China.
Earlier this summer, President Trump threatened to ban TikTok, but he later championed having an American company (or companies) purchase TikTok from its Chinese owners.
For several weeks, rumors that Microsoft would buy the social media platform swirled, and apparently they made an effort. But late last week, Oracle outbid them.
Over the weekend, President Trump stated that Oracle and Walmart would own a minority stake in TikTok Global, a new company for the app, which would have headquarters in the United States and have Americans as four of five of its board members.
The details of the deal are enough to give pause to those who were encouraged by the initial news. The Oracle and Walmart would own a combined 20% share of TikTok Global. Who would own the rest? ByteDance, of course.
Oracle says that they will store the data of Americans on their U.S. cloud servers, and ByteDance says that Oracle can look at the app’s source code but it won’t transfer its algorithms for Oracle to view.
President Trump also mentioned a $5 billion educational fund that TikTok Global would establish, which elicited a huge “HUH?” from ByteDance.
“Some news media reported that TikTok will set up a $5 billion education fund in the United States,” ByteDance said in a statement. “We would like to clarify that it was also our first time hearing about the news.”
Walmart and Oracle did not mention anything about an education fund in a statement released over the weekend, but they did say that TikTok Global “will pay more than 5 billion in new tax dollars to the US Treasury.”
TikTok users can breathe a sigh of relief that the app won’t be subject to a ban, and the news caused the app to see a 12% increase in downloads.
But the question remains: is this deal enough? Naturally, there are still security concerns, as Florida Senator Marco Rubio has expressed:
“If China continues to control the code, as I understand they would in this deal, they could put in that code an instruction to secretly send data back to China, to the mainland. No matter where the actual data is housed there can be something embedded in that code that sends it the other way,” he said during an interview on Fox News.
And the deal won’t do much – if anything – to repair the strained relationship between the United States and China. Not that we’re looking to improve that relationship.
Concerns over human rights and intellectual property have expanded to squabbles over technology, and American investment in China has dropped to its lowest level in a dozen years.
At the end of the day, TikTok users will be happy, and Trump will get another victory lap – after Big Ten football came back last week. But what won’t change is the strain between the United States and China. It’s our new cold war, and we need as many victories as we can in it.