Microsoft has signalled its intent to buy TikTok, with US President Donald Trump saying the China-owned social media platform would “close down” in America in 45 days if it isn’t acquired.
There have been growing concerns in the US over the video-sharing platform, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, and the potential harvesting of personal data by a foreign government, amid escalating tension between the Chinese government and several Western governments.
Trump has repeatedly threatened to “ban” TikTok in the US, and has now said that it will be “out of business in the United States” if it isn’t sold by ByteDance by 15 September as part of a deal that sees the US Treasury Department receiving “a lot of money”, as The Verge reported.
Tech giant Microsoft had already announced that it had entered into negotiations with ByteDance to acquire TikTok in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with the Committee on Foreign investment in the United States notified last week.
Under this deal, Microsoft would own and operate TikTok in these countries, with all personal data of these users transferred away from China.
“This new structure would build on the experience TikTok users currently love, while adding world-class security, privacy and digital safety protections,” a Microsoft blog post said.
“The operating model for the service would be built to ensure transparency to users as well as appropriate security oversight by governments in these countries.
“Among other measures, Microsoft would ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.
“To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred.”
Acquiring TikTok would instantly make Microsoft a direct competitor of the likes of Facebook and SnapChat. TikTok currently has 100 million users in the US.
Microsoft also owns professional social network LinkedIn.
Despite initially rejecting the notion, Trump has now backed the idea of Microsoft or another “big”, “secure”, “very American” company buying the platform.
But the President argued that the deal should involve the purchase of the entirety of ByteDance, not just its operations in the specific countries, as this would be simpler.
The deal should also involve a “very substantial portion” of the cash going to the US Treasury Department, Trump said.
In its blog post, Microsoft did refer to “providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury”.
Trump and the US government have given the two parties until 15 September to reach a deal.
“Right now, they don’t have any rights unless we give it to them, so if we’re going to give them the rights then it has to come into this country,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday.
“It’s a little bit like the landlord-tenant. Without a lease the tenant has nothing.”
Microsoft has made it clear that it’s no certainty that the deal will go ahead, however.
“These discussions are preliminary and there can be no assurance that a transaction which involves Microsoft will proceed,” the company said.
“We do not intend to provide further updates until there is a definite outcome to our discussions.”
TikTok’s Chinese ownership and the large amounts of personal data its users hand over have also raised concerns in Australia, with a number of MPs calling for it to be further scrutinised.
TikTok executives are set to appear before a parliamentary committee currently investigating foreign interference on social media later this month.