After what seems like a lifetime of political flak and negative media attention, the China-based company ByteDance might finally surrender ownership of TikTok in the United States. This afternoon, Fox Business Network correspondent Charles Gasparino tweeted, and Bloomberg reported, that Donald Trump plans to order Bytedance to divest from the U.S. portion of TikTok based on a legal review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an agency which appraises whether foreign investments pose a national security threat. Gasparino added, and the New York Times reported, that one company in talks to purchase TikTok is Microsoft.
ByteDance overall is reportedly valued at $US100 ($140) billion.
A TikTok spokesperson told Gizmodo that they “do not comment on rumours or speculation,” but are “confident in the long-term success of TikTok.”
They added that TikTok is “committed to protecting [the] privacy and safety” of its hundreds of millions of users, some of whom have built careers on the platform.
If you haven’t been following the TikTok drama, it might seem strange that a company would note its commitment to privacy and safety in the context of a speculated sale. But TikTok’s future in the U.S. depends on its ability to change lawmakers’ perception of the app as a national security threat and data funnel to China, where its parent company ByteDance is headquartered. (This hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s been highly alleged, and is possible under Chinese Communist Party rule.)
In this case, lawmakers don’t get the head on the platter they seemed to have originally hoped for; Trump and members of the administration have repeatedly floated the idea of banning the app altogether, and Trump, again, today told reporters that “We are looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok.” Gasparino also tweeted that “sources” say that the White House is “very concerned” about the possibility that ByteDance might retain any portion of U.S. TikTok. Earlier this month, The Information reported that ByteDance was considering selling off the majority of its stake in TikTok to existing ByteDance investors and retaining a minority share.
For the past few months, other rumours have floated of plans to restructure and distance from China. The BBC reported that ByteDance was in talks with the UK government to move its headquarters to London. Just after the House voted to ban TikTok from government-issued phones this month, TikTok announced, perhaps as a political offering, that it planned to add 100,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy.
For Microsoft, acquiring TikTok might be the long-awaited victory they missed out on after Mark Zuckerberg declined to sell Facebook back in 2007.
Gizmodo was unable to reach Microsoft for comment, but we’ll update this post when we hear back.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) July 31, 2020