Microsoft confirms pursuit of TikTok after Satya Nadella chats to Donald Trump

‘Appreciates President Trump’s personal involvement’ and promises so much security, you’ll be tired of securing

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Microsoft has confirmed it is considering the purchase of made-in-China social network TikTok and that its CEO Satya Nadella has spoken with US president Donald Trump to re-assure him about the security and taxation implications of the putative purchase.

Microsoft has been rumoured to be courting TikTok for the last week, but Trump told reporters that he intended to ban the app and prevent its sale to a US company for reasons he did not fully explain.

Now Microsoft has used its official corporate blog to reveal that “Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J. Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States.” And in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, too.

“Microsoft will move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020. During this process, Microsoft looks forward to continuing dialogue with the United States Government, including with the President.”

The post went on to mention that if Microsoft were to buy TikTok it would conduct “a complete security review”, implement “world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections” and relocate user data to the appropriate country.

Microsoft said if it buys TikTok it will also provide “… proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”

“Microsoft appreciates the U.S. Government’s and President Trump’s personal involvement as it continues to develop strong security protections for the country” the post added, but finished with the warning that “These discussions are preliminary and there can be no assurance that a transaction which involves Microsoft will proceed.”

Microsoft signed off by vowing to say nothing more until a deal is done, or not done.

Analysis

Flattery is a common tactic when dealing with Donald Trump, who likes to be seen not just a peer of senior business leaders, but capable of outwitting most.

By praising Trump in this post Microsoft shows it understands court politics, but the public abasement also suggests a certain desperation to get its hands on TikTok.

Just why Microsoft wants TikTok is another matter entirely. Perhaps Nadella sees it as a messaging service to sit alongside its gaming products, in the way that Discord has become a de-facto side channel for many gaming communities. Or maybe Microsoft has decided it’s time to compete more strongly with Facebook.

Whatever the reason, Microsoft will need to tread carefully because it has a mixed track record targeting consumers, with the closure of game-streaming service Mixer the most recent effort to be sent to the same graveyard wherein dwell Windows Phone, Zune, MS Messenger and more.

That care will be especially important because Microsoft’s proposal to effectively create a subset of TikTok could make the app less interesting.

Buying TikTok would also put Microsoft in the firing line were the social network to irk Trump. It’s not hard to imagine presidential missives criticising Microsoft for bias, being over-fond of China, or myriad other inexplicable and imaginary sins. ®

Bootnote: Speculation about the deal is already generating some decent jokes about how Microsoft would licence or re-name TikTok.

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