Biden’s TikTok Dilemma: Go After China Or Pursue Social Media Antitrust Claims

By Winston Cho, The Hollywood Reporter

After CEO Shou Zi Chew’s congressional testimony didn’t sway lawmakers concerned about ties to Beijing, calls to ban the app are likely to escalate — which could empower social media rivals.

In big tech, data is currency, and TikTok is printing money. Once known for viral dance videos, the platform has built itself into a digital advertising juggernaut. The app has more than 150 million monthly users and 5 million businesses it can harvest information from to sell ads, it disclosed March 21. It’s the leading video-sharing app in America by a mile in terms of attracting and holding users’ attention. Competitors are reeling to catch up, copying its video features.

But national security concerns grounded in TikTok’s data privacy practices as well as the potential for the Chinese government to influence the content users see on the platform are jeopardizing its lucrative business. The company says that the Biden administration is demanding that its Chinese owners sell their stakes or potentially face a U.S. ban on the app. By banning the platform, the government risks prioritizing alleged national security interests at the expense of its antitrust agenda. Meta and Google, fighting lawsuits from competition enforcers seeking to break up the companies, stand to gain the most if TikTok is banned. Users likely would flock to the only viable alternatives in Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.

“We know that TikTok had been extremely effective in competing in the social media market,” says Eric Goldman, a professor and director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law. “To the extent there are concerns about market dominance, curbing TikTok is counterproductive to antitrust concerns.”

Demands by the president for TikTok to sell to an American firm cemented Democrats’ about-face on alleged national security threats posed by TikTok, with momentum against the platform escalating. The government and more than 30 states have blocked the app on government-issued devices. And, in a precursor to Biden’s ultimatum, the White House on March 7 supported a bipartisan measure to take action against TikTok and other companies subject to influence from foreign adversaries by establishing a new unified framework for reviewing and addressing foreign technology.

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