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Microsoft In Talks To Buy TikTok As Trump Threatens A Ban

TikTok has been under fire in Washington. The Trump administration and some Democrats in Congress have been raising national security concerns about the Chinese-owned app.
Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
TikTok has been under fire in Washington. The Trump administration and some Democrats in Congress have been raising national security concerns about the Chinese-owned app.

Updated at 11:51 a.m. ET Saturday

President Trump has announced he plans to ban TikTok, the hugely popular video-sharing app, from operating in the U.S. as early as Saturday.

Trump's announcement comes after reports Friday that software giant Microsoft was in talks to acquire the app's U.S. operations. The president made it clear that he does not approve of the proposed acquisition.

"As far as TikTok is concerned, we're banning them from the United States," he told reporters traveling with him from Florida. He added that he could sign an executive order to enact the ban.

Following Trump's announcement, TikTok shared a message from its U.S. general manager, Vanessa Pappas, in which she said, "We're not planning on going anywhere." Pappas said that TikTok was "building the safest app because we know it's the right thing to do" and that it intended to bring more jobs to the U.S.

"I want to say thank you to the millions of Americans who use TikTok every day bringing their creativity and joy into our daily lives. We've heard your outpouring of support and we want to say thank you," said Pappas.

"We're here for the long run," she added.

If Microsoft buys TikTok, it would give the lumbering tech giant ownership of one of the trendiest social media platforms, favored by the youngest digital users coveted by all of Silicon Valley. Microsoft is said to be just one of a number of interested buyers of the app.

For months, TikTok has been the go-to platform for teens and millennials to showcase and spread comedy routines, dance challenges and political activism. Since the pandemic began, TikTok's popularity has surged worldwide, logging in more than 180 million downloads in the U.S. alone, according to research firm Sensor Tower.

TikTok has also come under increasing scrutiny in Washington because it is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company worth $100 billion.

Before his announcement, Trump floated the idea of banning the app on his way to Florida. "We may be banning TikTok," Trump told reporters earlier on Friday. "We'll see what happens."

"TikTok US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access," a TikTok spokesperson said, responding to Trump's announcement. "We are committed to protecting our user's privacy and safety as we continue to work to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform."

The spokesperson added that the company has hired nearly 1,000 people for the U.S. team.

The Trump administration and some Democrats in Congress have been raising alarms about the possibility of the Chinese government compelling TikTok to turn over personal data of millions of Americans. While there is no hard evidence that such data collection is occurring, Trump officials see the threat TikTok poses as real and for weeks now have been considering ways to ban TikTok or force it to sever ties with ByteDance.

TikTok says it has never turned over any data to the Chinese Community Party, nor have Chinese officials ever asked for the data.

TikTok publicly discloses what it does with the data it collects on users, including what messages are exchanged, what videos are watched on the app, online browsing history and access to the contacts on a user's phone. Technology experts say that level of data collection is in line with other smartphone apps.

The person familiar with the acquisition talks pointed to the popular dating app Grindr as a possible model for TikTok.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials approved the saleof Grindr to a group of American investors. The agreement was approved by the federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the same panel now examining TikTok.

In particular, the committee is now reviewing ByteDance's purchase of, a video-sharing service that became popular in the U.S. but was then relaunched as TikTok and became the first Chinese-based app to become a global hit.

This deal would address the fears over Chinese ownership — worries the company has forcefully battled.

TikTok's corporate owner is based in Beijing, but the company has long said it stores its data in Virginia. Its backup servers are in Singapore, and it says Chinese officials do not have access to them.

Still, TikTok has been accused of using its algorithms to demote topics like Black Lives Matter and of censoring content to please the Chinese Communist Party.

In a nod to the concerns from Washington, TikTok's newly minted CEO, Kevin Mayer, announced this week that the company would take an unusual step toward transparency. It will open up its algorithms, as well as its content moderation decisions and data collection, to the public, he wrote.

"We will not wait for regulation to come," Mayer wrote. "Experts can observe our moderation policies in real-time, as well as examine the actual code that drives our algorithms. This puts us a step ahead of the industry, and we encourage others to follow suit."

In the same announcement, Mayer announced TikTok would hire 10,000 workers in the U.S.

His statement was also a response to competition from Facebook. The social media giant plans to launch a feature similar to TikTok next month. It is reportedly offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to lure TikTok stars to its service.

Mayer called Facebook's forthcoming feature a "copycat" service "disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the U.S."

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Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.