Last night (Thursday), President Trump signed an executive order banning the Chinese owned video-sharing app TikTok from the United States over national security concerns. This announcement came on the heels of a House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on the power of Big Tech, where the CEOs of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple faced scrutiny from policymakers and the public for being too powerful and oppressive.
At that hearing, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg hammered home the American-ness of his company and the threat from China to the internet, specifically mentioning TikTok as the fastest growing app in the US.
The meaning was clear, and echoed points Zuckerberg made during one of his previous appearances before Congress: Big Tech is essential to fight Chinese platforms like TikTok that can spy on Americans and whose opaque algorithms could be used to conduct malicious activities like censoring political content and potentially impacting an election.
The most common solution proposed for the situation is for one of the big US tech companies to save the popular app—and all of us— from Chinese overwatch by purchasing TikTok. Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple have all been suggested, although Microsoft appears to be at the top of the list.
The idea that big tech companies can defend us against China has gained momentum over the last year, as monopolists have turned to the use of national security talking points to push back against their critics. Both former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, for example, cited competition with China as a reason to preserve US tech monopolies, rather than break them up. We need large tech companies, this line of argument goes, as “national champions” who will take on China and its national champions in the tech sphere. Far from breaking them up, these companies and their army of lobbyists say, we should protect, empower, and celebrate their concentrated power for the sake of American security.