Microsoft announced Sunday it would continue talks to acquire the US operations of popular video-sharing app TikTok, after meeting with President Donald Trump who seemingly backed off his earlier threats to ban the Chinese-owned platform.
A positive development in the #TikTok negotiations.
Thank you President Trump for protecting American consumers from the Chinese Communist Party and bringing jobs back to the US.
A win-win in the making. https://t.co/JK3G9r02bR
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 3, 2020
“Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” the company said in a statement, acknowledging the “importance of addressing the President’s concerns” over national security.
Mitigation of national security risks posed by TikTok
Microsoft added that it would continue negotiations with ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, with the intention of “completing these discussions no later than September 15.”
The statement came after Trump on Friday said he would ban the app, which is especially popular with young audiences who create and watch its short-form videos and has an estimated one billion users worldwide.
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TikTok should be sold or blocked in the US, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told ABC earlier Sunday, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News the president would “take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok denies it could be a tool for Chinese intelligence, with its US general manager Vanessa Pappas declaring Saturday: “We’re not planning on going anywhere.”
US has more to lose than TikTok
“The United States would be the biggest loser if it banned TikTok,” Daniel Castro, vice president of the think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said Saturday.
“All of its data centers are outside of China, and there is no evidence that it presents a national security threat.”
Trump said he would use an executive order to ban TikTok, or the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law granting the president powers to regulate international trade in the face of an “unusual and extraordinary threat” from abroad to US foreign policy, national security or the economy.
Read more: TikTok to be another casualty in US-China Cold War
His threat has caused great concern for US TikTok users, particularly content creators who make money on the platform.
Many of them have posted links to their Instagram or YouTube accounts so as not to lose followers if the platform is ultimately blocked.
In its statement, Microsoft said after acquiring the video app it plans to “build on the experience TikTok users currently love, while adding world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections.”
Buying TikTok would give Microsoft a chance to break into the social networking market.
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The IT group currently owns the professional networking platform LinkedIn, and Teams, an internal messaging service for companies.
TikTok to be acquired by Microsoft or banned completely?
Pappas promised Saturday to create 10,000 US jobs at TikTok over the next three years, in addition to the 1,500 current employees.
“Don’t fall for this,” responded senior Trump aide Peter Navarro, a fierce China critic and a main architect of the trade war with Beijing.
“China has hired a whole bunch of American lobbyists. They put a puppet CEO in charge of that company,” he told Fox News, referring to former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who became the CEO of TikTok in May.
On Friday evening Trump indicated he opposed a takeover of TikTok by an American company, a solution nevertheless agreed to by most of the involved parties, including ByteDance, according to The New York Times.
Read more: US ‘looking at’ banning TikTok and other Chinese apps: Pompeo
“This is getting bizarre. A 100 percent sale to an American company… mitigates any reasonable data protection concerns,” tweeted Alex Stamos, a former Facebook head of security and a researcher at Stanford University.
“If the White House kills this (sale) we know this isn’t about national security,” he added.
Free speech advocates also piled on against the idea of banning any kind of Internet service, regardless of its owner.
It’s not just TikTok – but WeChat will be banned in the US too, according to @SecPompeo.
If so, countless Chinese people who live in the US could be cut off from their friends and families in China, where WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is banned. https://t.co/JrzWcm6W6b
— Stuart Lau (@StuartKLau) August 2, 2020
“Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression,” said Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance.”
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk