ByteDance has told the White House it is ready to completely divest its business in the United States through a sale, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The offer was first reported by Reuters.
The call came a day after US President Donald Trump pledged to ban TikTok in the United States, and said a sale to any party – including Microsoft – would not be an acceptable solution.
“As for TikTok, we are banning them in the United States,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One Friday, who said he could use executive powers to formalize the decision as early as Saturday. “We are not an M&A [mergers and acquisitions] pays. »
The comments have left some involved in the talks between Microsoft and ByteDance concerned that all hope of a deal collapsed on Saturday.
However, others – including executives at ByteDance – believe that Mr. Trump’s intervention was a bargaining ploy intended to force the Chinese group to sell the entire American company at a lower price than what ‘he had expected from Microsoft.
There is no guarantee that Microsoft and ByteDance will come to an agreement, but the two sides have secretly discussed a transaction in recent weeks, according to several people involved.
Microsoft President Brad Smith has visited officials in Washington in recent days to see if a takeover of the company by the U.S. company would address the government’s concerns over TikTok, some of those people said.
Microsoft has a limited social media presence and believes a deal would allow it to fall into a category dominated by rivals such as Facebook, one person added.
Privately, TikTok executives and investors have speculated that Facebook, which is preparing to unveil a rival product in America as early as this week, has pressured the US government behind closed doors to ban the app.
The exact price under study is not clear, but it is believed to be between $ 15 billion and $ 30 billion, one person said. Another person said there had not yet been an agreement on price or terms and called the talks “preliminary.”
It is still unclear how TikTok would separate its US operations from its European and Asian weapons.
The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, has undertaken a review of TikTok’s status in recent weeks on the grounds of national security.
The review by Cfius, which is led by the Treasury Department, follows growing concerns about the company’s Chinese roots and data collection practices.
In addition to considering an outright ban and a split to an American buyer, the Trump administration has also weighed in on whether to place TikTok on the so-called list of entities maintained by the Department of Commerce, in order to restrict its ability to do business in the US.
In an apparent attempt to allay the concerns of her US users, Vanessa Pappas, managing director of TikTok US, posted a video on TikTok on Saturday in which she said, “We’re not going anywhere. . . We’re here for the long haul.
The company also released a statement on Friday saying, “TikTok US user data is stored in the United States, with strict controls over employee access. TikTok’s biggest investors are from the United States. We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of our users as we continue to work to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.
ByteDance has also been in talks with a group of its existing investors, including Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic, over a deal to create TikTok. Some of those U.S. investors may be able to take minority stakes under the terms of the White House proposal, one person said.
Microsoft could not immediately be reached for comment.
Additional reporting by Miles Kruppa