Final week the US needed to interrupt up Massive Tech. Now it’s attempting to supersize it.

President Trump is seated between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Donald Trump sits subsequent to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a 2017 occasion. | Chip Somodevilla / Getty

The TikTok/Microsoft deal — if it occurs — will make it more durable to shrink Fb or Google. Do you suppose Donald Trump cares about that?

Final week, US lawmakers hauled the heads of 4 large tech corporations right into a digital antitrust listening to, ostensibly over considerations their corporations are too large.

This week, the president of america is sort-of-kind-of-maybe attempting to assist a distinct large US tech firm grow to be even greater — by forcing the Chinese language house owners of TikTok to promote it to Microsoft.

There are every kind of views on a possible sale of TikTok from ByteDance to Microsoft. Some rational individuals suppose it’s a good suggestion: They don’t need the favored social video app with an enormous presence within the US to be managed by a Chinese language firm as a result of Chinese language corporations are, in varied methods, extensions of the Chinese language authorities.

Others fairly rightly fear about potential retaliation from China in opposition to US corporations that do enterprise in that nation, in addition to the breakdown of your entire idea of an open web.

But it surely appears to me that one of many placing elements of the entire deal can be that the US authorities, which says it worries concerning the attain and energy of its homegrown tech giants, is now actively encouraging a deal that might supersize a type of giants.

Which means that the US isn’t actually frightened concerning the attain and energy of its tech giants.

Caveat time! There are lots of confounding, stunning, and unbelievable parts to the ByteDance-TikTok-Microsoft-White Home-China story, which could be very a lot a shifting goal. This afternoon, for example, Donald Trump insisted that to ensure that the deal to undergo, the US authorities must get a “very substantial portion” of any sale value if Microsoft does purchase TikTok from ByteDance.

Trump, after all, says every kind of issues, on a regular basis. Lots of these issues will not be true. But when he really means it this time, it means the deal seems to be a lot much less seemingly than it did a couple of hours earlier.

And whereas we’re at it, let’s be clear that it’s laborious to make an actual antitrust argument in opposition to a Microsoft-TikTok deal, not less than as antitrust legislation works within the US proper now: TikTok might fear the social media large Fb, however Fb nonetheless dwarfs TikTok; identical factor for Google’s YouTube. Fb, for example, says it has 256 million customers within the US and Canada; TikTok says it’s at 100 million.

It’s additionally not a coincidence that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was not in Washington final week, testifying together with the heads of Apple, Google, Fb, and Amazon. Apart from its Xbox gaming platform, Microsoft has a really modest shopper web presence within the US psyche*. If any large tech firm goes to accumulate TikTok, it could be Microsoft.

However let’s even be very clear: Whereas Microsoft has turned itself into a large tech firm that focuses on enterprise prospects, it’s nonetheless very a lot a Large Tech Firm — one which the US authorities spent years attempting to interrupt up due to the best way it abused its standing because the dominant pc working system within the 1990s.

In its final 12 months, Microsoft generated a staggering $143 billion in income — for context, that’s two Facebooks. And whereas its development is coming from enterprise prospects and cloud providers, Microsoft nonetheless dominates private computer systems. In case you’re not studying this on a telephone or pill, the chances are very excessive you’re studying this on a Microsoft Home windows-powered machine.

Briefly: In case you had been frightened concerning the focus of tech energy within the US, you wouldn’t add probably the most consequential new social media platform in years to an organization that made $44 billion in earnings — 4 Amazons — final yr. (That stated! Within the close to time period, Fb execs received’t complain whereas Microsoft figures out, structurally and technically, methods to separate TikTok from its present proprietor/operators and rebuilt massive parts of it. Massive corporations normally anticipate to take a yr or extra to swallow up a major acquisition; this one could possibly be far more tough.)

If US lawmakers had been actually involved concerning the energy of tech giants, they might be actively be debating legal guidelines to rein that in, as a substitute of punting the work to enforcement businesses just like the DOJ and the FTC. And a complete faction of US politicians wouldn’t spend their time in vital antitrust hearings focusing on made-up claims that large web corporations are dangerous as a result of they censor conservatives.

If something, you would argue {that a} TikTok sale to Microsoft makes it even much less seemingly that we’ll see actual antitrust motion in opposition to Google or Fb. If that deal goes by, each corporations can credibly argue that TikTok is now a fair fiercer rival to their enterprise as a result of it has Microsoft behind it.

Once more: I’m glad to entertain arguments for or in opposition to TikTokSoft — it’s a genuinely fascinating and vital inflection level for tech and world politics. However subsequent time you inform me the US authorities is Very Nervous About Massive Tech, you’re going to have work a lot more durable to persuade me.

* Not for lack of attempting: If Microsoft had succeeded in its try to purchase Yahoo a few years in the past, or if it hadn’t burned billions attempting to construct a shopper advert enterprise, possibly issues can be completely different.


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