A possible sale of the US operations of Chinese-owned TikTok to Microsoft would be put on hold after Donald Trump promised to ban the video-sharing app.
A sale was deemed close to a deal, but was questioned after the US president’s warning on Friday.
The Wall Street Journal said Microsoft has now suspended talks despite TikTok owner ByteDance making final efforts to win White House support.
It comes amid criticism of Mr. Trump’s threat as an attack on free speech.
The popularity of the short form video app has skyrocketed, with TikTok boasting around half a billion active users worldwide – and around 80 million in the United States – with a huge proportion in their teens or early teens. in his twenties.
But some U.S. politicians are concerned that the app’s Chinese owner Bytedance poses a national security risk because the app could be used to collect Americans’ personal data. Regulators have also raised their own safety concerns.
On Friday evening, Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One: “As far as TikTok is concerned, we are banning them from the United States. ”
And in a statement on Saturday, a White House spokesman said: “The administration has very serious national security concerns over TikTok. We continue to assess future policy. ”
The Wall Street Journal said Bytedance tried to make significant concessions in the White House, including creating thousands of jobs over three years.
A sale of the US operation to Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, would give the US tech giant a much bigger social media presence, an area dominated by rivals. The US branch of TikTok has been estimated to be worth $ 15 billion to $ 30 billion (£ 11 to 23 billion).
According to the Financial Times, some ByteDance executives believe Mr. Trump’s intervention may just be a bargaining ploy to help Microsoft strike a better deal.
TikTok declined to discuss a possible deal with Microsoft, but a spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday, “While we don’t comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in TikTok’s long-term success. ”
The statement reiterated that the company is committed to protecting the privacy and security of users.
The move to ban TikTok comes at a time of heightened tensions between the Trump administration and the Chinese government over a number of issues, including trade disputes and Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
The president’s announcement on Friday was criticized by some in the tech industry, including former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, who questioned whether the move was motivated by national security concerns.
He tweeted: “This is getting weird. A 100% sale to a US company would have been seen as a drastic fix two weeks ago and ultimately mitigates any reasonable data protection concerns. If the White House kills this, we know it doesn’t. on national security. ”
Mr. Trump has also been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union. “Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a threat to free speech and is technologically unworkable,” said Jennifer Granick, ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity advisor.
“Shutting down a platform, even if it was legally possible to do so, harms freedom of expression online and does nothing to address the broader problem of unwarranted government surveillance,” he said. -she said in a press release.
On Saturday, to reassure the millions of American users of TikTok, Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of the country said in a video message: “We are not going anywhere… We are here for the long term.
“When it comes to safety and security, we are developing the safest app because we know it’s the right thing to do. We therefore appreciate the support. ”