Former Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin Says He's Looking to Buy TikTok

(Yahoo!Finance) - Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is putting together a group of investors seeking to purchase TikTok if the social media app's parent company ByteDance is forced to sell it off. Mnuchin made the announcement during an appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box Thursday.

"I understand the technology, it's a great business, and I'm going to put together a group to buy TikTok," he said.

While Mnuchin wouldn't name who he's working with to potentially buy the platform, he did say that it involves a combination of different investors outside of Big Tech firms.

"I don't think this should be controlled by any of the big US tech companies," he said. "I think there could be antitrust issues on that, and it should be something that is independent so that we have a real competitor. And users love it, so it shouldn't be shut down."

On Wednesday, the House voted overwhelmingly to force ByteDance to divest itself of TikTok. If the company doesn't sell the app, app stores like Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store would be required to stop hosting the platform or face fines of as much as $5,000 per app user.

The Senate would need to pass a similar bill.

Mnuchin, who chaired the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States under former President Trump, said the data the app collects, and the fact that it's owned by a Chinese company, are especially problematic.

"This shouldn't be controlled by the Chinese. It is an issue for this to be on everybody's phone," he said. "When you have this app on everybody's phone it has the ability to collect an awful lot of data. It should be owned by US businesses. There's no way that the Chinese would ever let a US company own something like this in China."

Mnuchin's task won't be easy. During the interview he admitted that the app would need to be rebuilt in the US using US technology. But TikTok's secret sauce is the algorithm that keeps users scrolling through while waiting for class to start and through their lunch breaks.

Washington, as well as states and municipalities across the country, has been working to kill TikTok for years on fears that the data TikTok collects can be used to manipulate users or gather information about them that amounts to a national security threat.

But, so far, no government agency has managed to provide a succinct explanation as to what that threat entails. Free speech advocates, meanwhile, have come forward saying that killing TikTok would violate Americans' First Amendment rights. As a result, the legislation is all but guaranteed to face legal challenges if it does pass the Senate and is signed by President Biden.

By Daniel Howley · Technology Editor

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011.


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