News Release

Could TikTok Be Owned by Its Users?


Schneider is a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he directs the Media Economies Design Lab. He is author of the new book Governable Spaces: Democratic Design for Online Life, published by University of California Press. His articles on this subject include “Let Users Own the Tech Companies They Help Build” for Wired magazine.

Brennan is a researcher on democratic public ownership and currently works as a project coordinator for the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. In 2020, he and Schneider co-authored the Jacobin article, “There’s No Solution to Big Tech Without Public Ownership of Tech Companies,” and the accompanying report “A Common Platform: Reimagining data and platforms.”

They said today: “The bipartisan move to ban TikTok does nothing to address the crisis of surveillance capitalism that Americans are experiencing. Even if TikTok ceased to exist tomorrow, foreign governments would still have access to the personal data of Americans via U.S.-based big tech companies because the business model is fundamentally predicated on selling data for targeted advertising; there is nothing unique about TikTok in this regard. Worse still, the potential fire sale of TikTok to Steven Mnuchin and American capitalists suggests that Democrats have no real strategy for addressing the underlying problem, and are solely interested in advancing a new Cold War consensus for short-term political gain. …

“Because this is a government-compelled event, there is a window of opportunity for lawmakers to stipulate a democratic ownership structure as a requirement for the divestiture, including through direct public ownership or facilitating a buyout to convert TikTok into a user-owned platform cooperative. …

“Instead of targeting TikTok in particular, lawmakers concerned with Americans’ data and privacy should coalesce around a comprehensive data bill of rights, such as Senator Sherrod Brown’s 2020 DATA Act. Congress should recognize that we need another option than another venture-backed tech monopoly. …

“The situation with TikTok is yet another reminder that we need policy that can support technology owned and governed by the people who depend on it. Whether the platforms are surveilled from abroad or at home, the current model of building technology for investor control and state surveillance is a dead end. Just as we have done through history with rural electric co-ops, credit unions, and more, we need the ability to finance innovation on the foundation of community ownership.”

See from Sam Husseini: “Did the Israel Lobby Push for the TikTok Bill so that its Allies Could Control it?