Mark Zuckerberg might have one less rival to deal with before long.
On Friday, a new report puts President Trump at the ready to sign an executive order forcing Beijing-based tech company ByteDance to divest from its massively popular TikTok app.
The social video network — known mostly as a favorite pipeline of absurd challenges, from lip-syncing to beauty dares, for the Gen Z crowd — has become a favorite target of the White House and government officials from both sides of the aisle scrutinizing Chinese technology adoption in the U.S.
The report follows comments made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who went on record earlier this month saying that the administration was “certainly looking at” a ban of TikTok in the U.S. On Thursday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) signed a letter asking the Justice Department to launch a probe into TikTok and Zoom over alleged violations of “Americans’ civil liberties” and national security implications of these companies’ ties to China.
ByteDance, which is valued at $100 billion, is no minor league player. But that doesn’t mean it wants to lock horns with the Trump administration, especially after seeing how the U.S. has complicated affairs for others, such as Huawei. The U.S. doesn’t just want to keep the Guangdong-based consumer electronics and networking giant out of its home turf — it wants to stop the spread of its technologies all over the world. Earlier this month, the U.K. government banned Huawei’s 5G gear.
As for TikTok, its developer had often maintained that, while the company behind it has Chinese roots, the outfit is run independently by leadership and employees based in the U.S. In other words, it considers itself an American company that serves a global user base. This spring, the app broke a milestone, with an estimated two billion downloads worldwide, according to third-party trackers like Sensor Tower, which reports that the U.S. represents an estimated 187 million downloads.
In public remarks responding to the report, a TikTok spokesperson said, “While we do not comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok. Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform. We’re motivated by their passion and creativity, and committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”
The app even had an unexpected presence at Wednesday’s congressional roasting of Big Tech, when Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, listed it among the social company’s top competitors.
Now one tech giant is said to be interested in scooping up TikTok. But it’s not Facebook.
Microsoft is reportedly in talks to buy the app — which is fascinating, because the Windows desktop software and cloud services provider isn’t known for its success in mobile.