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Microsoft and Bytedance Put TikTok Talks on Hold After Trump Signals Opposition (wsj.com)
108 points by bigpumpkin 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

The idea that corporations are kowtowing to a polticians individual personal wishes - rather than operating under a framework of laws and regulations based on principles and administered fairly to all - should be offensive to every single American, regardless of who the players are or their country of origin.

Well, This is what HN posters want. As evidence by the numerous downvotes I get about not wanting the government involvement in tech. Even after the dog and pony show with the CEO’s last week where one representative grilled Zuckerberg about Twitter’s treatment of Don Jr.

Fwiw I did not see your gov comments but I can be both for more gov oversight in tech and against one politician deciding unilaterally what apps are allowed.

If it is necessary to curtail what apps can collect, let's make it a law and apply it evenly to all companies.

The worst political development over the last decade is the very wide embracing of corporate censorship. It is now widely accepted that media platforms have an explicit duty to control public opinion.

In this context any large foreign media outlet becomes a threat.

Social media platforms are tools of information warfare and propaganda. This is what advertising is to begin with, and outside of that obvious function most of these platforms are further optimized to drive engagement by presenting misinformation.

The idea of politicians discriminating against the ones they don't like is repugnant, but these platforms already are already used to control public opinion in ways that are against the public interest, and it's certainly reasonable to suspect that a platform such as TikTok (which is controlled by a competing empire) might be used to that empire's advantage.

All of which is either press or speech.

I keep hearing this mostly from the conservative side when Trump got elected mostly by bypassing traditional media and using Twitter and social media.

What do you propose? More government involvement to tell tech what they can do on their own platform? Isn’t it kind of hypocritical that the anti regulation party wants regulation when it suits them?

Corporate censorship bites both ways; see Apple's reluctance to approve HKmap.live for its platform.

What exactly does that have to do with US policies?

Nothing, that's the point. Censorship is not a "US conservative complaint", it's a problem independent of nationalities or political parties.

Perhaps they are waiting to allow government policy to create a better negotiating position.

On the other side, politicians have always obeyed to corporations desires.

Even more pronounced is the silence of life long legislators who were always opposed to this kind of strong man government all along.

Ps: I side with Trump on this one. Just hate the fact that no Republican opposes him anymore.

It's been my observation that political parties believe in whatever is convenient for them to believe in at any given time. So we shouldn't necessarily be surprised by lack of GOP opposition.

In fairness, I guess people are like that as well. Maybe that sort of duplicity is simply endemic to being human?

> Just hate the fact that no Republican opposes him anymore.

Many do, few have the guts to admit it publicly. Politics is still a business after all.

As an example, The Lincoln Project is made by past and current republicans strongly opposing Trump. https://lincolnproject.us/

But it is under a framework of laws and regulations.

All governments, including the US, have the legal right to ban companies and block mergers/acquisitions on national security grounds.

Each company has different issues hence why the idea of it not being discretionary doesn't make sense.

I'm applying to work at ByteDance, and this whole thing is quite interesting.

I'd most likely, if I get an offer, ask if they would wait to see how this plays out. Last thing I would want to do is join a company that's having these kind of issues.

It's not likely they would give you an offer to be perfectly frank. In a very real way, they can't even know if they will have their own jobs in a month.

Not sure about that. Companies tend to offer jobs right up until a hiring freeze comes down from above. Happened to me with nVidia, and seemed to happen to a bunch of people at Magic Leap.

It might be best to accept the job offer pronto. What's the worst that happens? You have to look for another job, which is the situation you're already in.

How is it ok for the US president to ban a media company? How is it ok for the US president to put pressure on the owners of a company to sell to another company? This must violate > 1 article of the constitution.

Tiktok users did boycott the Tulsa rally. I think that annoyed him, and this may well be petty retaliation.

While that is certainly true there has also been significant congressional interest in Tik Tok and possible security implications going back to October of last year.

Marco Rubio asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, to review TikTok’s acquisition of rival app Musical.ly. The impetus seems to have been a Washington Post story that ran that September[1] that questioned the absence of Hong Kong protests on TikTok in contrast to other social media platforms.[2]

Also that same month Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton sought to have the US intelligence community assess the national security risks of TikTok(and other Chinese-owned platforms) sighting concern about election meddling and influence.[3]

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/09/15/tiktoks...

[2] https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/9/20906971/tiktok-censorshi...

[3] https://www.cotton.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1239

No idea why you are downvoted given the historical content outlining the controversy of TikTok being a security risk before all these bans taking place. It sounds more than just about the Tulsa rally if even Biden is telling staff to delete the app. [0] These investigations aren’t limited to the US, but Japan and Australia also share these concerns. [1][2]

They talk about ‘freedom of speech’ in TikTok which first of all for its US operations, it doesn't apply to private companies like TikTok, FB and Twitter. However the censorship case is far much worse. Anyone who appeared ‘Ugly or Poor’ was censored [3], they ‘apologised’ for censoring BLM posts on the platform at the time calling it a so-called ‘Glitch’ [4] and still actively censor activists or anything against the CCP in order to comply with its censorship laws.

If anything, TikTok is far from being a platform to supporting this ‘freedom of speech’ if that ever ‘existed’ before it rose to prominence [5].

[0] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/10/politics/dnc-warning-tikt...

[1] https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20200728_39/

[2] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-02/tiktok-under-investig...

[3] https://theintercept.com/2020/03/16/tiktok-app-moderators-us...

[4] https://time.com/5863350/tiktok-black-creators/

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/26/tiktok-says-it-doesnt-censor...

Why would a media company be special. This type of thing happens all the time, for example the US government banned a Chinese company from purchasing Lattice Semiconductor, the third biggest FPGA company (and really a much smaller player than the big two).

If the president is taking this actions in retaliation for the expression of free speech on the platform (TikTok audience skews young, which is a very anti-trump demographic) that may violate the First Amendment if proven.

Viewpoint discrimination is against the first amendment. We know Trump wasn’t offended by the idea that foreign countries might be trying to help him get elected, and has repeatedly called it a “Russia hoax”, but now that a social media app has anti-Trump users it’s suddenly a national security threat without any evidence provided?

Tiktok is the only platform where Trump supporters aren't banned. Not to mention, (white) zoomers lean very much to the right.

> Not to mention, (white) zoomers lean very much to the right.

Huh? Where on Earth did you get that idea? From what I've read and observed, it seems like while they may not be self-identifying as "liberal" or Democratic on quite the same level as Millennials, they still seem to hold views which are far from what you'd traditionally call "very much to the right".



Right because Twitter isn’t Trump’s favorite platform to bypass the media.

Mergers are blocked all of the time for competition and security reasons.

And the President has the right to ban companies on national security grounds as well.

The legal basis for both is very well founded with plenty of precedent.

It should be challenged in court. This is a country of rule of law.

It’s supposed to be. I think we’ve seen recently that laws only matter if they’re enforced. They can’t just exist.

I wonder if the "deal" was going to be just "we'll run your US infrastructure (and keep data) in the US, on Azure, and we split the money" rather than a buyout ? That would make more sense to me.

So more like "Microsoft will invest X billion for a Y% of TikTok and run its US operations".

You could satisfy the US government that Microsoft was guaranteeing the data would not be shipped to China.

I don't see how with that arrangement they could guarantee the app is also not collecting and uploading data in addition to the data saved on Microsoft's servers. It would come down to trying to prove a negative which is not really possible outside of trivial cases.

The only way to make that arrangement work would be to give Microsoft access to the source and ability/responsibility to review the source/releases. Not exactly a great Setup for either party.

I thought Trump already said no to that plan.

Yeah and the article also says that it was an actual buyout of Bytedance's share. oh well. interesting times.

I can't believe business deals with such explicit political motivations are being considered.

Every single piece of law granting the US government authority on national security grounds has enjoyed bipartisan support for a very long time. I'm only surprised it hasn't been used like this earlier.

Treating foreign media as a "national security issue" is extremely scary. This is not something that free societies do.

> Treating foreign media as a "national security issue" is extremely scary.

Not really. RT and Al Jazeera has (rightfully) suffered much of the same scrutiny. There's a fundamental difference between something extremely partisan (think Breitbart or HuffPo) and something state-sponsored. Let's not bury our heads in the sand here.

But this is tantamount to banning Americans from accessing the Al Jazeera website. It’s obscene.

RT and Al Jazeera may suffer scrutiny, but the US government cannot ban Americans from reading them.

> There's a fundamental difference between something extremely partisan (think Breitbart or HuffPo) and something state-sponsored.

Not really, free speech should apply even to hostile foreign propaganda.

The new thing is the explicitness of the political motivations. There are plenty of countries where if you want to have a sufficiently large business, you have to pay off all the people with their hands out, right up the chain. And that's what this is.

(The fact that this is illegal in the US and even for US companies to do abroad under FCPA will, I suspect, be rendered irrelevant)

Bribes are about money, this appears to be about media control. Much worse.
ardit33 10 days ago [flagged]

If Tiktok was European/Japanese/Korean/Canadian this would not happen, as those countries are free democracies and work with a similar/common rule of law

1. China doesn’t play with the same rules, and it has been proven to be a malicious player

2. They don’t allow western companies to operate freely in their country, why should we let them to?

3. The US and to a lesser degree Europe, are in a de-facto new Cold War, and informational warefare is big part of it

You can view either on the reciprocity Point of view, or data-safety point Of view, the US would be foolish/dumb to allow TikTok to flourish in the US., while American companies just can’t in China.

Now, if the US was banning an app from another western country, that would be a true scandal.

In this case they are doing the right thinks

If the government wants to restrict the ability of Chinese business to grow in the US, that's fine, but it should be under the existing framework of law that we follow. This should be passed through Congress and the SC as a law, not an executive order.

We have Checks & Balances for a reason.

Executive orders aren't magic, there's some law they will reference as giving the president the power to issue such an order.

Except for there being this joker called "national security" which magically allows practically anything to be ordered by the executive, because you can obviously reframe anything into a matter of national security, even short video clips of dancing teenagers.

"Security" also happens to be the favorite purported justification of most authoritarian measures in evil regimes. Just look at China: ubiquitous surveillance, censorship, concentration camps, suppression of dissent are all justified internally as "security measures".

Should white nationalists be allowed to march and exist in the public space?

Yes, that's quite literally a textbook case of First Amendment rights.

Why not? They look like idiots doing it, people nearly always counter protest. It's always nice to see proof that the master race they ain't.

There is an important difference in this instance - the US is applying these to a foreign company, not on its own citizens like China.

I'm pretty sure when China banned Google & Facebook, it cited the reason as "not obeying local law" and "posing a national security threat".

It was less national security and more not obeying local law, particularly the law mandating censorship of certain stuff.

I don't like the Chinese approach to managing the public opinion by censoring valid information and opinions at all. But the opaque and uncontrollable pockets of power created by the US approach of misusing "national security" as an excuse for practically any action, most of them being more politically motivated than anything else, is equally disturbing and problematic. Both of these ways of governing lend themselves equally well to dictatorships, which I consider problematic, especially in modern democracies, which the US certainly claims to be (the Chinese government at least doesn't claim to be a democracy in the first place).

Let's be clear apps like TikTok are a threat to national security.

Widely deployed apps that capture location data can and have been used to determine the location of military bases and assets.

This is a parity of a NatSec threat. Any base that is legitimately secret would disallow it’s personal from using apps like this. And that data is trivially replaced by satellite photography. Non secret bases are supported by hundreds of “Third Country Nationals” that do everything from trash collection to serving food in the chow hall. TikTok is not a natsec threat unless our military personnel are posting natsec information to it. Pretty easy to solve that problem and not ban it for everyone.

But what is happening is that personal devices are being used by military personnel on those bases. We’ve seen plenty of examples in the past of where location information has been leaked e.g. Strava.

And satellite photography can’t be used to extrapolate troop numbers, movements etc. Especially given that it can be done in real time.

> And satellite photography can’t be used to extrapolate troop numbers, movements etc. Especially given that it can be done in real time.

Estimates can be made regarding troop capacity and capabilities based on the billeting and vehicles in the photos.

If an app is a national security threat, maybe people shouldn’t be carrying them around military bases :shrug:

TikTok has been banned by the military since last year.


Many of those bases will have baby + home security cameras which are far more obviously a security risk, because they (potentially) send WiFi passwords home.

Trump's move is pure theatre. He has no clue about real security and he's throwing his weight around like an attention-seeking child, because that's what he does.

This is an entirely orthogonal issue to something that's been missing in the West for decades - a coherent program of IT security and IoT and app standards which define exactly what products and apps can and can't do, and which enforces a testing and certification process to make sure products and services stay within the lines.

And also... mandated protections for user data - something the EU is moving towards, but which the US still seems to be having issues with.

Between IoT, IT infrastructure, poor corporate security, and unregulated data capture, there are much more serious security threats than the TikTok app.

I fail to see how domestic US regulations will help in this case, if users are willingly installing this spyware app on their phone in the first place and giving it the requisite permissions to access everything on the devices. Do you think China will comply with US protections?

Is there any proof that TikTok captures any more data than any other popular app of its type ?

The recent history of executive orders in the US blatantly contradicts this. Sure, you can claim that they have to be supported by law to be put into effect, but that's not actually true: Executive orders are put into place all the time, and if you're lucky the worst ones get suspended by a judge temporarily and are eventually decided in a court hearing months or years later.

The US president can say 'we're doing X' and if the relevant agencies' personnel are willing to listen to him, it'll be in effect the next day. We've seen this with travel bans and family separations.

I don't see any reason to think this will be the case. The White House issued an executive order meant to intimidate Twitter after they labeled some of his tweets. That order did not cite any relevant body of law.

I haven't seen the EO, but didn't it cite section 230, which regulates how websites can filter content to maintain safe harbor status?

What checks and balances? The Senate and the judiciary have been rubber stamping everything the President has done over the past four years.

I doubt that is the case.

Look up how Japanese companies are treated in late 80s and 90s.

When one felt under threat, all rules will be forgone.

Free Market for me, not for thee

I think game theory can offer some insight. A tit-for-tat approach has been shown to be an effective long-term strategy over multiple iterations of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Player A will be discouraged from acting adversarially if they have reason to believe that player B will respond in kind.

Is China a free market for non-Chinese companies?

Does it matter? This is a discussion about the law of the United States, and last I checked we do not follow Chinese law.

I'll reiterate my point from above-- if the US government wants to ban Chinese services, that's fine. I support that decision. What I do not support is doing this via executive order as that is not how laws are passed.

If the US were to ban Chinese companies, it should be a law passed through Congress, signed by the president, and approved by the USSC. It should have clear parameters as to what exactly is being banned. It should, again, not be an executive order banning TikTok explicitly as there is nothing inherently bad about being an app called TikTok.

tldr if the US government wants to play the "fight fire with fire" card, they should be fighting the whole fire, not just the one that upset the president.

Does China even pretend to be?

What comes to your mind when you think of China - Adam Smith or Karl Marx?

Don't know why this is getting downvoted - it's a legitimate (albeit rhetorical) question highlighting that China has never allowed western companies to compete fairly in their market.

See: Google, Facebook, etc. etc.

Thank you. I have resorted to asking rhetorical questions as we are now at a stage where stating obvious true facts about certain topics is taboo.

We are now witnessing the beginnings of the great social media struggle session.



Whatever is wrong with China, and there is plenty, the US and particularly the president's behavior is dictatorial here.

Perhaps the administration could outline the new intel that has come to light in the last month that has made this such an urgent issue right now, as opposed to any other time in the past year.

Otherwise, as a layman, I might think that the humiliating "million ticket reservation" prank of the president's Tulsa, OK rally that adolescents orchestrated on TikTok is what triggered it.

It's well within the rights of the president to negotiate these matters, and congress has increasingly over the decades encouraged it:


Has there been tariffs in the past levied against specific companies?

I don't disagree with you. I think we've all found that a lot of the structure of US society and government have assumed non-malicious and non-criminal actors past a certain point. Frankly, I think the system assumes a capable enough public to elect competent and decent people, and should that ever fail there is nothing really worth saving, anyway.

Rule of law is not conditional on reciprocity, societies strive to give due process even to literal murderers.

The US should respect it's own laws and deal with chinese companies fairly. The actions of the chinese government should have no bearing on this.

> 1. China doesn’t play with the same rules ...

> 2. They don’t allow ..., why should we let them to?

Because, as you said in your first point, we play by different rules. Do you want everyone to start playing by China's rules instead?

This is a good point.

American exceptionalism is based on the premise of taking the high road (free, open democracy, rule of law, basic freedoms, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...", etc) and being a success because of that.

To now play by China's rules basically says America has been doing it wrong the last 100 years.

You’re skirting around the argument. The parent’s argument is that no single politician should have this power. It isn’t an argument for or against the government stepping in here—it’s an argument against who’s doing it.

Genuine emergencies (IEEPA expressly addresses seems conflict with special provisions, and arguably mostly is made for that and conditions imminently threatening it) may need responses inside the legislative cycle, which is why IEEPA exists. Certainly, it's arguably been stretched beyond the basic intent in the past (but Congress hasn't reasserted itself in response), and even by the standards of past use this is somewhat ludicrous, but I think that the basic concept is one which makes the case that it's not the President having the power to exercise judgement in this area that is the problem but the judgement actually exercised.

I don't think it matters whether China is a democracy or not. The US has been a malicious player for the past few years -- Canada has similarly been labeled a threat to national security.

What does matter is that China is starting to become strong enough to be a regional power, which is a threat to American dominance in East Asia

Sadly this splitting of tech into China and the West is a huge trend, one which we are not going to stop.

In the future tech will bifurcate into two camps and we'll have a new cold war.

I am tired of the FAANG dominance of tech ... time for new products and companies.

Easy to say that a country doesn't play by the rules when you make up the rules as you go along.

If it is sold to Microsoft, is any of that still applicable?

Except Trump is blocking the move that would alleviate all of those concerns because it's politically inconvenient to admit that the owners of Tiktok don't really care about harvesting sensitive personal data to appease their political overlords in Beijing, they mainly care about the same thing every other tech CEO cares about which is harvesting sensitive personal data to build a fantastically profitable advertising platform.

Trump's wish to ban it has nothing to do with China and everything to do with his Tulsa rally. Gov agencies have already put internal bans in place to prevent it being used as for data gathering tool which is appropriate and legal. The users will find something else and move on, but this is a bad precedent for an open democracy.

1. There's the First Amendment in the US

2. Tens of millions of Americans use Tiktok as a platform for speech.

3. Now Trump wants to prohibit the platform which enables the free exercise of political speech against him.

What's more important, geopolitical considerations or the Constitution?

The first amendment doesn't preclude the government liquidating a news business or publisher for unrelated reasons, such as fraud or tax violations. In this case Bytedance is basically being accused of (being accomplice to) espionage.

Why doesn't TikTok just move out of the US completely? As far as I know, Trump does not have the authority to block foreign websites that he doesn't agree with (for example, the webpages of foreign terrorist groups or criminal organizations are easily accessible). The whole authority for Trump to block this is that ByteDance (a Chinese firm) is investing in TikTok (a US company). If TikTok was run abroad, and had no presence in the US there is nothing Trump can do, and US customers could still use the site.

That was my initial line of thinking as well, until someone reminded me of some government list that TikTok could be added to which would require that they’re pulled from the app stores.

Well TikTok is still working in India while it has been "banned" ... kids being kids will just sideload the app unless they are running Apple devices.

This is just wild. What will happen when or if a president of a different party is elected?

I understand your question, but I'm sorry, that just sounds bush league to me. So you have to change your business to suit every political party that comes to power? That's a lot of unpredictability. How can you run a business like that?

Plus, what if elections are "postponed until a more appropriate time"? I mean, the environment would just be riddled with so much uncertainty that I'm not sure how an honest business would be able to engage in cogent decision making?

I completely agree with you. That was the main purpose of my question, without so many words.

I’m so confused. Didn’t I just read several submissions where almost every person was cheering the government threatening to become involved in Big Tech?

It's a very different matter when a government acts within the bounds of its authority. In the case of the congressional hearings, that is well within their bounds, and antitrust law is established law. This is a president asserting executive authority in a way without precedent as far as I know.

Yes it is. Anti trust law has never been

A) used against a company that has at most 50% market share (Apple)

B) In the US always been focused on consumer harm and based on does a “monopoly” cause consumer prices to go up. Facebook/Google costs consumers nothing and no one can honestly claim that Amazon/Apple prices have increased because of anything they have done. (Disclaimer: I work for AWS)

C) The republicans were more worried about Facebook/Google’s “bias against conservatism” and in the case of Facebook, one Republican representative grilled Zuckerberg about Twitter’s policy that affected Don Jr. and the administration has repeatedly gone against Amazon because Bezos owns the Washington Post.

You may have, but not from me.

I've never been big on the government getting involved. In my view, big tech has no problem that the market won't work out.

The privacy problem, (well, I consider it a problem, others may not), happens when big government gets involved with big tech. We actually need less of that, not more.

HN is an international site and has quite diverse population from what I have seen. Some Indian threads are pro government while others are completely anti-government. There are so many variables for this - one could be timezone and day of the week. I have a list of usernames for people who participate on those threads so I know it's different every time.

Have you compared the users on those submissions? They might be completely different.

He may not want the chinese benefiting from American money through such moves. This deal could set an example on new apps to come from China.

Because it was never about protecting American national security, it was about protecting Trumps ego from TikTok ridicule.

- TikTok would seem to be an existential threat to Facebook.

- Acquisition by Facebook is problematic given current scrutiny of their market position.

- Facebook has been Trump’s media ally since 2016.

- Trump is intervening clumsily to kill a rare Facebook competitor.

Circumstantial to be sure. But the pattern match is bonkers.

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