It seems that Microsoft is considering buying the incredibly popular but under-fire social media network TikTok. Microsoft is believed to be in talks with Chinese tech company ByteDance to buy the social media app’s US operations. This comes at a time when US President Donald Trump has again expressed concerns about the national security threat that the Chinese-owned app poses and threatened to ban it in the US altogether. India banned TikTok a few weeks ago as part of a larger list of Chinese owned apps that are no longer accessible in India.
TikTok is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, valued at around $100 billion. It is unclear at this time as to how advanced the talks between Microsoft and ByteDance really are and what terms the two tech giants are looking at, if at all. This development was earlier reported by Fox Business Network's Charles Gasparino who tweeted, “My banking sources say they are looking at it; can't guarantee a purchase but this thing is being shopped and one of the stops has been @Microsoft”. Earlier, Trump had made his intentions clear. “We’re looking at TikTok, we may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some other things. There’s a couple of options. But a lot of things are happening, so we’ll see what happens. But we are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok,” said Trump while speaking with reporters. In China, the National Intelligence Law of 2017 governs all tech companies that are based in China or are under Chinese ownership. The law mandates all businesses to share any and all information that the Chinese Government may ask for. This is something that is worrying governments around the world, including India.
It is also not clear what Microsoft’s potential purchase of TikTok would mean for the structure of the social network’s operations in the country, and whether any Chinese investors would retain a stake in the company. It is believed that the US administration is weighing its options whether it can force ByteDance to sell its US operations or whether the company can be added to the “entity list” that prevents American companies from conducting any business with these companies. Chinese tech company Huawei was on this list last year, and suspicions continue to circle around Chinese tech companies regarding the data they share with the Chinese government.
At this time, Microsoft’s social media stakes rely heavily on LinkedIn, a network aimed more at working professionals rather than a more casual and friend-driven approach that Facebook has, for instance. Yet, Microsoft must also consider the implications of such an acquisition, if at all. Earlier this week, the big tech companies, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon testified at the US Congress antitrust hearing about business practices and regulation. Microsoft has managed to stay under the radar and out of the attention of regulators in the US mostly because it focused on business consumers. With a TikTok purchase for instance, which is as consumer centric as it can be, Microsoft might come under scrutiny.
TikTok has more than 800 million users worldwide. It was acquired by ByteDance in 2017 and is incredibly popular with the demographic that is also the target audience for the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snap.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Indian authorities are scanning as many as 275 more apps for potential user privacy violations and national security threats. This follows the ban on 59 Chinese-owned apps last month, a list that included the very popular social media app TikTok. It is believed that the latest list of apps under the scanner include the incredibly popular game PUBG Mobile, ecommerce platform AliExpress and another popular game Ludo World.