- President Donald Trump is planning to sign an order directing ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to “divest its ownership” in the app’s US operations, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
- A Fox Business journalist also reported that Microsoft was interested in buying TikTok’s US operations.
- It’s unclear what power Trump has to order a foreign company to sell a part of its business.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump is set to order TikTok’s Chinese parent company to sell the app’s US operations, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
Trump is planning to sign an order directing ByteDance to “divest its ownership” of TikTok in the US, the report said. Earlier this month, the Trump administration first said publicly that it was considering banning TikTok over concerns about its ties to China and the foreign government’s access to user data and content moderation.
Bloomberg said an announcement on Trump’s plan could be made as soon as Friday.
The Fox Business reporter Charles Gasparino said on Twitter on Friday that Microsoft was interested in buying TikTok’s US operations. The White House is “deeply concerned” about Microsoft’s interest, Gasparino said.
Trump has the power to intervene in corporate deals under a law Congress authorized back in 1988, according to the Wall Street Journal. Trump has used this authority three times in the past, including twice to block deals in which tech companies from China and Singapore were poised to take over American competitors, the Journal reports.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. In a statement to Business Insider, a TikTok spokesperson said the company does not comment “on rumors or speculation,” and that it was “confident in the long-term success of TikTok.”
“Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform,” TikTok said in its statement. “We’re motivated by their passion and creativity, and committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”
It’s unclear how TikTok or ByteDance will respond to the order, but Trump’s move would represent an escalation in the administration’s attacks on TikTok and other Chinese tech companies.
Since TikTok came to the US in 2018 and found an energetic and growing user base of more than 80 million, there have been questions about the amount of access and influence the Chinese government is afforded over TikTok’s user data and content moderation through its parent company, ByteDance.
In late 2019, the US government — headed up by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States — first launched a national security investigation into ByteDance. The investigation specifically centers on ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, a short-form video-editing app already popular in the US that preceded TikTok’s expansion to American users. CFIUS reviews foreign companies’ deals involving US businesses over national security risks.
But TikTok’s China ties have attracted more attention in recent months as the president and his administration have said they’re weighing a ban on the app. Both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in early July that they were considering a ban in the US. Trump said a ban would be a way to punish China over its role in the coronavirus pandemic, while Pompeo cited national-security concerns.
As part of its efforts to demonstrate its distance from China, TikTok named a new CEO in June: Kevin Mayer, a longtime Disney executive based out of TikTok’s US headquarters in Los Angeles. The company also recently launched a content-advisory council to guide policy changes and set up a transparency center at its Los Angeles offices.
But as uncertainty about TikTok’s future persists, ByteDance executives and investors have reportedly been exploring ways to avoid an app ban in the US. One possibility, raised by the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow earlier this month, could see TikTok pull out of China and operate as an “independent American company.”
Some of ByteDance’s US investors, including Sequoia Capital, have been looking into buying a majority stake in the app, according to The Information. The group of investors has valued TikTok, which has more than 2.3 billion downloads worldwide, at a whopping $50 billion.