Real estate tycoon Frank McCourt Jr. is putting together a bid to buy TikTok in the wake of a law Congress passed forcing the social media giant to divest from ByteDance or face a ban.

This news, first reported by Semafor, came after McCourt came to the Deseret News offices for a conversation about his broader vision for changing the internet. He wants people, not corporations to have control of their own data.

“We need to return control of our information to each of us and build the next version of the internet, where we’re not clicking on the ‘Terms of Use’ and giving up everything about us to these platforms,” said McCourt during his Deseret News interview.

McCourt, the former owner of the Dodgers, founded the nonprofit initiative Project Liberty in 2021 to change the infrastructure of the internet. He’s not looking toward a policy solution — he wants to remake the technology itself.

It’s a pursuit of liberty for McCourt, who said agency, autonomy and liberty is the secret sauce America has. He draws inspiration from Thomas Paine and the Declaration of Independence as he advances his mission — “We need technology that actually is in harmony with those principles, rather than technology that is completely at odds.”

“The policymaking apparatus just wasn’t in a position to keep up with the tech. The tech is just too big, too powerful,” he said. He wants to anchor the internet around decentralized social networking protocol, or DSNP — a new set of standards that would be open to the public and give users control over their personal information.

McCourt lays this out in his book “Our Biggest Fight: Reclaiming Liberty, Humanity and Dignity in the Digital Age” co-authored by Michael J. Casey. “By adopting this protocol, individuals would regain authority to decide who gets to see different types of information about them and their social connections,” the pair wrote.

The “holy grail” for tech companies is personal information and data. “It’s not just where you shop or what you buy or where you’re physically located,” said McCourt. “It’s your relationships, your preferences, your voices, your behaviors, your reactions.”

There’s a term used to describe the data that maps out your relationships, connections and preferences — social graph. McCourt said you could think of it as a digital version of DNA.

“It’s a rethink of how the tech works from the bottom up,” said McCourt. “The internet as we know it will still exist, but the user experience will be totally different because each of us will now have ownership and control of our data.” Instead of your device having an IP address, you would have the IP address and could move around the internet freely.

One practical way this would change the internet is log-ins. Instead of having different log-ins for separate applications, you’d only have a single DSNP log-in. You’d also get a digital wallet of sorts that you could download onto your phone or computer.

“It will allow you to grant selective permission to third-party providers that require specific information about you,” McCourt and Casey wrote. “It puts you — not Google, not your bank, not your doctor, not the institution where you were educated, not all the other businesses that currently store information about you — in the driver’s seat.”

Frank McCourt, author of "Our Biggest Fight: Reclaiming Liberty, Humanity, and Dignity in the Digital Age," speaks with Deseret News editors and reporters at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

During his conversation with the Deseret News, McCourt didn’t talk about his bid to buy TikTok. But he did speak to how he believes the conversation around data privacy shouldn’t just be about TikTok.

“We don’t want the information from 170 million Americans going to Beijing, I get it,” said McCourt. “But why do we want the information of hundreds of millions of Americans going into Silicon Valley?”

As McCourt puts together his bid, he told Semafor he’s turning to foundations, public support and endowments for the $100 billion to potentially buy the app. He said the capital would all be aligned around “a new and better version of the internet, where individuals are respected and they own and control their identity and their data.”

While McCourt focuses on data and privacy, he thinks the fight is larger — it touches on bigger issues like democracy, dignity and the future of freedom.

“We know that our democracy is struggling,” said McCourt. “The algorithms are designed to actually keep us in a constant state of being polarized.”

McCourt is 70 years old and is worried about what the next generations will inherit if the technology isn’t changed. In their book, McCourt and Casey referenced the research of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and pointed toward detrimental effects social media have had on young people, especially on their mental health.

The key point McCourt and Casey raise is that the mental health “lies not solely in specific content that induces people to harm themselves or others but also in how their algorithms create an addictive dependence on a toxic social media environment.”

That’s why, for McCourt, the solution rests on “we, the people.”

“Unlike the revolutionaries Paine stirred into action, we need not shed blood this time,” wrote McCourt and Casey. “And the systemic change we require doesn’t depend on actions by politicians, too many of whom have been co-opted by Big Tech’s money.”

The change, they wrote, must be technological — but it’s also a choice that rests on the public. “We the people must make this change happen.”