The rumor mill slowed down just a bit over the weekend in the saga of TikTok, Donald Trump, privacy… and Microsoft. The US Government had been telegraphing its displeasure with TikTok, citing privacy concerns and rumors that user data was being shared with the Chinese government. ByteDance, the Beijing company that created TikTok and saw it rise to prominence after merging it with a social media startup, Musical.ly, they acquired in 2017, has denied any such data sharing, but still has recently made efforts to distance itself from the US version of TikTok, moving data centers and appointing a new CEO.
Things heated up considerably when both US President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo let it be known that they were looking at options for dealing with their displeasure, up to and including a ban on TikTok in the US, citing national security concerns.
The bombshell dropped on Friday, when word got out that Microsoft was interested in acquiring TikTok from ByteDance in order to remove the links to the Chinese. Waters have been muddied, however, with President Trump’s personal dissatisfaction with all the attention TikTok has been getting, specifically with TikTok user Sarah Cooper, who has been releasing lip sync videos using some of Trump’s own statements to make fun of him:
The plot thickened late Friday when Trump, apparently unimpressed with the Microsoft news, told reporters aboard Air Force One that a TikTok ban was forthcoming, with an announcement coming on Saturday (yesterday). Microsoft and ByteDance reportedly then put their talks on hold while the political situation played out, but also after ByteDance reportedly agreed to sell off all of the US operations of TikTok, something they had been unwilling to do up to that point, wanting instead to control a minority stake. Microsoft may not be the only suitor, either, although no other names have come out, at least not yet.
Meanwhile, TikTok’s US General Manager Vanessa Poppas posted a response to the rumors of a ban, saying “we’re not planning on going anywhere:”
— Andrew Peng (@TheAPJournalist) August 1, 2020
Saturday has come and gone, and there has been no further communication from the White House, at least not yet. So where does that leave us? The White House can’t just decree that companies must get presidential blessing on their business endeavors, and unless there’s a sound argument over national security concerns, for example, an executive order banning the sale of TikTok could be problematic. At the same time, Microsoft certainly doesn’t want to incite the wrath of a vindictive President, especially with that other hornet’s nest of a deal, the Defense Department JEDI contract, still in dispute.
A US ban on a social media phenomenon like TikTok could have significant repercussions as well, and what that could do to the upcoming US elections is also unclear. As for Microsoft, who just shuttered their last attempt at consumer social media, Mixer, and have largely gotten out of consumer focused businesses, a move to acquire TikTok is a bit of a head-scratcher, at best.
We’ll be keeping our eyes on the news feeds, but a TikTok to Microsoft move seems to be on pause, for the moment, anyway.