TikTok is a 'poison chalice' and Trump's ban threat is 'bizarre', says Bill Gates

'Who knows what’s going to happen with that deal', he also said

Adam Smith
Monday 10 August 2020 09:55 BST
Trump sets deadline for TikTok sale or shutdown

TikTok is a “poisoned chalice” and it would be better if Microsoft did not purchase the viral video app, Bill Gates has said.

Mr Gates, who is still a technology advisor to the company he founded, said with regards to the idea of Microsoft buying TikTok from its Chinese parent company Bytedance

“Who knows what’s going to happen with that deal," he told Wired in an interview. "But yes, it’s a poison chalice. Being big in the social media business is no simple game, like the encryption issue.”

Donald Trump has signed an executive order which would give TikTok 45 days to end operations in the United States or be purchased by another US company. Microsoft has said that it intends to have the purchase of TikTok completed by 15 September.

“This may sound self-serving, but I think that the game being more competitive is probably a good thing. But having Trump kill off the only competitor, it’s pretty bizarre,” Gates said.

Mr Trump has said that the US treasury should retain a cut of the TikTok sale to Microsoft, comparing the relationship to one of a tenant and landlord. TikTok has claimed the sale is illegal and experts have come to similar conclusions.

The president has signed an executive order against another Chinese app, the messaging service WeChat. Experts have also suggested that could be subject to legal challenges.

Mr Gates also used the interview to raise concerns about encryption on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, specifically because of his presence in many conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.

“I’m involved in almost everything that anti-science is fighting. I’m involved with climate change, GMOs, and vaccines,” Mr Gates said.

“The irony is that it’s digital social media that allows this kind of titillating, oversimplistic explanation of, ‘OK, there’s just an evil person, and that explains all of this.’ And when you have [posts] encrypted, there is no way to know what it is

"I personally believe government should not allow those types of lies or fraud or child pornography [to be hidden with encryption like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger].

Gates said that he and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “disagree on the trade-offs involved there". Zuckerberg has alluded to plans to make Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram messages encrypted by moving them to the same infrastructure. Critics have said this is to make it harder for the companies to be separated by government.

“The lies are so titillating you have to be able to see them and at least slow them down,” he said. “Like that video where, what do they call her, the sperm woman? That got over 10 million views"

While Facebook has taken action to direct those who search for misleading coronavirus information to reliable sources, research has found that social media sites are removing less than one in 10 posts spreading “dangerous” coronavirus misinformation.

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