The move by U.S. lawmakers to force TikTok’s China-based parent company Bytedance to divest the company or face a ban in the U.S. has brought out numerous bidders for the asset, including one who is putting up money for a bid that would ultimately see the company belong to its user base.

Billionaire Frank McCourt, the founder of Project Liberty and former owner of numerous professional sports franchises, is backing the bid for TikTok's U.S. assets. In an interview with BNN Bloomberg McCourt said he would like the app to remain active in the U.S. but “not in the same form that it is now by scrapping everyone’s data and exploiting it.”

Instead, he sees a future version of the app built around a new system where users own and control their data on it.

"I am bidding in behalf of Project Liberty, it’s a people’s bid because we want society to be broadly involved in this exercise not only to be replacing Chinese capital with some other sovereign’s capital." Long term, he would prefer the company’s U.S user base of 150 million people “be part of the ownership group.”

That view is in keeping with his stated desire to change the current structure of the internet, which he says has been "colonized" by a handful of big tech companies.

"We have a big infrastructure problem," said McCourt. “We have a broken internet.”

McCourt said his biggest concern is not big tech companies like Google owning the infrastructure of the internet, but rather that they also own and control the data that goes on it.

McCourt has a long-stated desire to build a better internet and he used to believe better policies were the answer but has since come to realize that policy-making alone isn’t enough.

"Policy-making moves at a very deliberate pace, technology moves very, very fast, regulation cannot keep up with it."

It’s a big reason why in 2019, he greenlit Project Liberty, which focuses on developing the next generation of digital infrastructure. McCourt has committed US$500M to this project.

"Project Liberty is about fixing the tech, engaging civil society and creating policies for the future."

The telecom model

McCourt says changes in the U.S. telecom sector that took the market from an oligopoly to a competitive marketplace can be a model of how a better internet could look.

“Imagine an internet in which our personal information is portable, we take it with us where we want to go and we set the terms and conditions of use,” said McCourt, adding that if companies get an economic benefit from having access to our data, we should receive a part of that money.

"The new apps in this new world should be interoperable, so you have a million Davids instead of five Goliaths.”

McCourt added we are at an inflection point, “if we don’t fix what is broken, Generative AI will come and make it worse.”

“In what world do you take something that is broken and make it more powerful?” he said.