When it comes to the changing calculus in the TikTok deal with Oracle and Walmart, one thing remains clear: Confusion reigns.
Statements made by ByteDance, TikTok’s current owner, indicated that the deal would lead to the formation of a new business, and that upon its initial public offering in the U.S. next year, Oracle and Walmart would get a collective 20 percent stake and the Chinese tech company would hold the remaining 80 percent.
That’s a nonstarter for President Trump, who in comments to media on Monday made clear that if ByteDance didn’t completely divest from the app, the deal wouldn’t be approved.
ByteDance would “have nothing to do with it, and if they do we just won’t make the deal,” he said.
Meanwhile, Oracle executive Ken Glueck broke with TikTok’s description of the deal, issuing a statement that when shares in the new company go to their owners, “Americans will be the majority [shareholders] and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”
Developments have come on a near constant basis over the past few days, as pressure heightens on TikTok to reach a deal that satisfies Trump’s order for ByteDance’s divestiture from the app.
The pendulum has been swinging wide on the deal’s reception, just since Friday alone.
The Department of Commerce moved to prohibit downloads of apps WeChat and TikTok starting Sunday. Then both apps got a reprieve: For WeChat, a last-minute temporary injunction by a federal court in California stayed the ban.
The Commerce department delayed TikTok’s ban one week, after Trump offered an early blessing “in concept” while talking to reporters on the White House lawn on Saturday.
Now the principals in this proposal, which is still technically under review, seem to disagree on what it means — including the President. Adding to the complication, China must also approve the sale, and that’s looking less likely by the moment.
ByteDance has been telling Chinese media that it won’t sell its algorithms, the backend tech that drives TikTok’s engagement, and last month, the Chinese government instituted new regulations that could hamper the sale of TikTok’s technology without a license — and likely others, which could have implications for China-U.S. relations beyond the sale of this one business.
As for TikTok, even if new owners assumed control of the business, they may still have to rely on ByteDance for the technology that fuels the app. And that now looks like a dealbreaker.
These disagreements beg some startling questions, most fundamentally, who will wind up actually controlling TikTok when all is said and done? That may become evident as time goes on and more developments emerge. But at this point, there’s no telling where this will go.