TikTok owner ByteDance said yesterday it is doing all it can to avoid a ban in the United States, confirming that it is facing a forced sale to US tech giant Microsoft, an internal memo has shown.
This caps days of speculation since President Donald Trump first raised the possibility, citing national security concerns.
In the memo to employees, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming said the company had been under scrutiny from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States since it bought the app musical.ly to form the current product.
“While we encounter mounting complexities across the geopolitical landscape and significant external pressure, our response teams have been working round the clock… to ensure the best possible outcome,” he wrote in an e-mail sent out shortly after noon and also posted on ByteDance-owned news aggregator Jinri Toutiao.
The company is in “preliminary discussions” with a tech company to help continue offering the app in the US, Mr Zhang wrote, without naming the company. “We do not yet know the exact details of what our end solution will be,” he added.
Microsoft, in a blog post on Sunday, said it is exploring a purchase of TikTok, following a phone call between Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and Mr Trump, and will complete discussions by Sept 15.
A Reuters report, citing unnamed sources, said Mr Trump has given TikTok 45 days to reach a deal on the sale.
“The two companies have provided notice of their intent to explore a preliminary proposal that would involve a purchase of the TikTok service in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and would result in Microsoft owning and operating TikTok in these markets,” the blog post said.
Since Mr Trump floated the idea last Friday of banning the platform in the US, citing security concerns that the data of about 100 million users could be shared with the Chinese government, shock waves have rippled through the app’s youthful user base, who are concerned about the loss of a creative outlet.
It prompted TikTok chief executive Vanessa Pappas to reassure users that the platform was “not planning on going anywhere”.
Chinese state media have also responded vigorously to the potential banning of an app blocked in China, with nationalist tabloid Global Times saying the company’s biggest “sin” was challenging US tech dominance, while the official China Daily accused Washington of hypocrisy.
“The US generalises the concept of national security, makes presumptions of guilt and threatens relevant companies without any evidence,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing in Beijing.
“This violates the principles of market economy and exposes the hypocrisy and typical double standards of the US in maintaining fairness and freedom,” he said.
In a public post late on Sunday, ByteDance responded defiantly to the situation, saying it has been hit with “complex and unimaginable difficulties” while expanding globally, “including the tense international political environment, the collision and conflict of different cultures, and the plagiarism and smear of competitor Facebook”.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had criticised TikTok for censoring content.
While TikTok is owned by Beijing-headquartered ByteDance, it is banned in China, which has its own version of the app, Douyin.
The company has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the Chinese government, recently bringing on board long-time Disney executive Kevin Mayer as chief executive of TikTok’s US operations.
The Trump administration’s move over TikTok also brings the US-China dispute into the technological sphere. It marks the latest in a series of tit-for-tat moves between the two countries.