Fast Company: Why Frank McCourt thinks buying TikTok could help save the internet


The Project Liberty founder sees TikTok as an opportunity to protect privacy by ensuring users retain control of their person.

The way Frank McCourt sees it, acquiring TikTok from its parent company ByteDance isn’t just about nabbing a buzzy social media platform: It’s a step toward building a fairer internet.

The billionaire is spearheading a bid to buy the social media app from ByteDance, which faces a divest-or-ban proposition from the U.S. government. To McCourt, TikTok offers a chance to implement his ideas around data on a bigger scale and show how we might rethink data and privacy on the internet. (That’s if he’s able to close the deal: McCourt is already facing competition for the app from former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and ByteDance has sued to block the law.)

Though McCourt is perhaps best known as the chairman of McCourt Global (and for his ownership stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers), since 2021 he’s been chairman of Project Liberty, a nonprofit that seeks to give people ownership of their own data. Project Liberty’s success hinges on its Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP), a blockchain-built open-source infrastructure that lets users—rather than networks—determine when and how their data can be deployed. DSNP users can also remain anonymous, though self-identification can at times be required in exchange for access to various networkers and channels. Last year, the social platform MeWe migrated its backend tech as well as 700,000 of its 20 million users over to DSNP. And now McCourt’s got his sights set on TikTok.

To describe his discomfort with the internet’s data practices, Frank McCourt likes to use the analogy of the U.S. Post Office: It’s as if, he says, the postmaster general offered free mail service in exchange for unfettered access to all your letters and your family’s letters. “You’d say ‘creepy, unfair, and harmful,’” he says. “That’s what is happening with our data.”

I met with McCourt in late May at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin. Seated in an airy lounge overlooking the Colorado River, we discussed TikTok, DSNP, and the discordance between our policymakers and our technologists. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Read the full Q&A on Fast Company here.

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