TikTok may be trying to negotiate its way out of being sold at all

TikTok may be trying to negotiate its way out of being sold at all
ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang YimingZheng Shuai/VCG via Getty Images
  • The US government has for months tried to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok's business in the US, based on allegations that the company allows the Chinese government to access the data of American users.
  • Now, ByteDance and the US government are discussing "possible arrangements" that would keep the company from having to sell TikTok's US operations in full, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
  • September 15 has been floated as the deadline for an acquisition — with Microsoft and Oracle leading talks — but the deal has hit snags and remains in limbo.

ByteDance may reportedly not have to sell off its TikTok US assets after all, following a tumultuous, monthslong power struggle between the US government and the China-based company.

The Wall Street Journal reports that ByteDance is talking with the US government about "possible arrangements" that would avoid a "full sale" of TikTok's operations in the US, where it has north of 100 million users each month. Such an option would put an abrupt end to months of speculation about which American company would take over TikTok's business in the US.

TikTok did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

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The Journal reports that there are still "a number" of options on the table for ByteDance, and that discussions about avoiding a selling off all of TikTok's US operations have been under way "for months." Without a full sale, TikTok would likely still restructure itself somewhat to appease government officials, according to the Journal.

An announcement about TikTok's US buyer has seemed imminent in the last few weeks, a resolution that would address the US government's national security concerns and avoid Donald Trump's threat to ban the app nationwide because of ByteDance's headquarters in China.


Talks about a possible sale of TikTok's US business trace back to July, before Donald Trump issued any executive orders threatening to ban the app nationwide. But the Trump administration's power to impose such a ban on TikTok or take action against ByteDance — as well as its national-security accusations — remains unclear.

It's also unclear what will happen come September 15, the date employees have taken to calling "D-Day" that was first pushed by Trump and Microsoft as a deadline for a deal to be finalized. Trump's first executive order set a September 20 date for banning Americans from making "any transactions" with TikTok and ByteDance. However, a second executive order seemed to extend a deadline for a TikTok deal to November 12.

The race for a stake in TikTok's assets — a deal valued between $20 billion and $50 billion — has surfaced names like Microsoft, Oracle, Walmart, and SoftBank as potential buyers. The frontrunners in the bidding war have appeared to be two groups: a joint offer between Microsoft and Walmart that's backed by ByteDance's CEO, and another from Oracle, which has the support of President Trump and a group of ByteDance's US investors.

However, talks have stalled recently after China set new restrictions on exports of artificial-intelligence technology, requiring Chinese companies to get approval from the state government to conduct trade. The new rules could potentially give China the authority to block the export of TikTok's AI, which includes the vital algorithm that powers the app's addictive "For You" feed of videos.