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  • Writer's pictureWe Are Neighbors

Frank McCourt's $100 Billion Vision for a New and Improved TikTok.


Frank McCourt, prominent tech critic and billionaire

A prominent tech critic and billionaire, Frank McCourt, is planning a bid to acquire TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned social media app currently under pressure from the US government to sell. McCourt, who is the executive chairman of McCourt Global and founder of Project Liberty, revealed his intentions in an interview with Semafor on Tuesday. He aims to transform TikTok into "a new and better version of the internet where individuals are respected and they own and control their identity and their data."


"TikTok represents both the best and worst aspects of the internet. It connects 170 million people, fostering creativity and enjoyment. However, users do not truly share in the value created, and their data is often misused and sent to China," McCourt explained. He has enlisted Guggenheim Securities to guide what he dubs the "people's bid" and plans to seek funding from foundations, endowments, pension funds, and public support, estimating TikTok's cost at $100 billion.


"We want all the capital to be values-aligned around a new and better version of the internet," McCourt emphasized.


Despite assembling an investor group, McCourt will likely face fierce competition from major American companies eager to acquire TikTok's advertising business and user base. The 2020 forced sale attempt by Donald Trump drew interest from Microsoft and a consortium including Oracle and Walmart. Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also shown interest in TikTok.


DETAILS

ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, is currently contesting legislation that could force a sale or shutdown of the app. The outcome of this legal battle, particularly regarding TikTok's algorithm, will significantly impact its value, estimated at around $100 billion based on 2023 revenues of $16 billion.


McCourt plans to integrate TikTok with Project Liberty’s technical architecture, migrating user accounts to a system compliant with the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol. This would grant users more control over their digital identities and personal data, allowing creators to manage and monetize their content more freely.


INSIDER PERSPECTIVE

McCourt's bid brings a critical perspective on the platform and similar US-owned social media giants. Project Liberty's proposal could challenge existing social media norms, advocating for a model where users' identities and content are not confined to a single platform.


Braxton Woodham, head of Project Liberty's software group, likened the transition to bringing "the patient out of a dark cave into the hospital where you can have lights on the problem." McCourt's initiative has garnered support from notable figures like internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, who praised the envisioned TikTok for upholding privacy, data sovereignty, and user mental health.


LEGAL CHALLENGES

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, highlighted First Amendment concerns regarding a potential TikTok ban. "TikTok's American users are exercising their First Amendment rights when they post and consume content on the platform," Jaffer noted.


McCourt's book, Our Biggest Fight, outlines his views on technology, comparing modern internet users to serfs subjugated by a few dominant companies. TikTok creators are actively involved in the federal lawsuit opposing the ban, and critics argue that issues of digital-data surveillance and user manipulation are not unique to TikTok but prevalent across many social media platforms.

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