Microsoft, TikTok officials in White House talks to prevent total ban
As Microsoft considers a buyout of social media app TikTok, officials from the big tech company and well as executives representing TikTok have been in discussions with the White House to prevent the Trump administration from issuing a complete ban of the app, FOX Business has learned.
Those discussions come as President Trump is poised to issue an order that could ban the app from being used in the U.S. over security concerns or allow a U.S.-based company to buy the outfit, pending a security review. A decision is expected either Monday or Tuesday, people close to the matter tell FOX Business.
Confirming talks between CEO Satya Nadella and Trump, Microsoft said Sunday it is prepared to continue discussions to purchase TikTok's U.S. operations until Sept. 15.
"Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President's concerns," the company said in a statement. "It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury."
The Trump administration has been weighing TikTok's fate since last year, launching an investigation into the short video company amid fears that its Bejing-based parent ByteDance shares customer information with the Communist Chinese government.
As first reported by FOX Business, ByteDance entered into talks about a month ago with Microsoft to buy TikTok's U.S. operations as a way to save the business from a decision by the administration that would prevent the popular app from being used by U.S. consumers.
Microsoft has not made a final decision on buying TikTok's U.S. business, and even with a green light from the White House, it could still walk away, these people add. People close to TikTok say other potential U.S. suitors exist.
Over the weekend, as the administration weighed TikTok's fate, two powerful GOP lawmakers, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voiced support for the administration's review of TikTok as well as for the Microsoft purchase as a way to allow TikTok's 80 million U.S. users to continue to use the app.
This Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 photo shows the icon for TikTok taken in New York. (AP Photo)
Meanwhile, FOX Business has learned that talks about a possible Microsoft purchase of TikTok aren't on pause, but negotiators are waiting for the administration's final decision. President Trumpsaid on Friday that his administration was moving toward a total ban of the app on U.S. soil, but he has also indicated he might be open to a deal where the company is purchased by a U.S. company like Microsoft.
According to people with direct knowledge of the matter, the talks have initially focused on TikTok's smaller U.S. business, but they say Microsoft might want the scale of the entire company, which boasts hundreds of millions of users worldwide.
However, any sale of TikTok will face hurdles from the White House, especially from trade adviser Peter Navarro, who supports a total TikTok ban, people with knowledge of the situation tell FOX Business. The sale would need to meet strict conditions that the Chinese have no involvement in the new company, people close to the White House say.
Microsoft's Sunday statement said it would ensure that Americans TikTok users' private data would be "transferred to and remain" in the U.S.
"To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred," the tech company said.
Bankers briefed on the matter say the chances of a Microsoft deal are not dead but could be fading amid the White House debate. TikTok is literally staring at a death sentence in the U.S. and billions of dollars in losses if shut down.
Both TikTok and Microsoft are pushing for a compromise that would allow a deal to take place, these people add. One such compromise would involve the president invoking an action by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, forcing a divestiture of TikTok's U.S. business but allowing an American company to buy it if it clears national securities concerns.
Or the president could choose a more draconian route and place Bytedance on the so-called foreign entities list, making it nearly impossible for an American company to buy TikTok.
Trump could also issue an order that starts a longer process of government review of any acquisition of TikTok.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, said Sunday that Republican and Democrat leaders "all agree there needs to be a change."
"I've said publicly that it’s under review. I will say publicly that the entire Committee agrees that TikTok cannot stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans," Mnuchin told ABC "This Week."The president can either force a sale or he can block the app."