Semafor: Tech critic McCourt mounts TikTok bid

May 15 Semafor Ben Smith

A billionaire tech critic says he is mounting a bid to buy TikTok, the massive Chinese-owned social media app whose parent company faces US government pressure to sell.

Frank McCourt, the executive chairman of a family real estate giant, McCourt Global, and founder of tech and innovation initiative Project Liberty, told Semafor in an interview Tuesday that he plans to buy and rebuild TikTok as “a new and better version of the internet where individuals are respected and they own and control their identity and their data.”

“TikTok presents the best and worst of the internet. It connects 170 million people and allows them to be creative and build things and enjoy things and do things,” he said. “On the other hand, they don’t get to really share in the value that’s created, and their data is scraped and stolen and shipped to China.”

McCourt said he’s retained the investment bank Guggenheim Securities to advise him on what he calls the “people’s bid,” and said he’ll seek money — TikTok could cost $100 billion — from foundations, endowments, and pension funds, as well as broad based public support.

“We want all the capital to be values-aligned [around] a new and better version of the internet, where individuals are respected and they own and control their identity and their data,” McCourt said.

If he is able to assemble an investor group, he will still likely face intense competition from giant American companies eager to swallow TikTok’s huge advertising business and user base. Donald Trump’s 2020 attempt to force a sale drew interest from Microsoft and a group that included Oracle and Walmart. (Microsoft’s CEO later called the process “the strangest thing I’ve worked on.”) This time around, former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, fresh off leading the rescue of a New York bank, has also expressed interest in TikTok.

Read the full piece on Semafor’s website. Learn more about the bid on Project Liberty’s website.

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