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TikTok Could Become Microsoft's Deal of the Decade

Tim Culpan, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Business News

Let's get something clear upfront: Microsoft Corp.'s purchase of TikTok isn't worth $50 billion.

That's my opinion. But then again, it's not my money. Some investors in its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., think it's worth that much, according to a Reuters report last week. Good for them. We'll soon find out its true value, and more importantly, that of Microsoft's chief executive officer.

After a weekend of speculation, the American software giant came out Monday morning, Beijing time, to confirm talks to buy the short-video sensation that boasts more than 100 million users in the U.S. alone.

The opening line of the blog statement notably said: "Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J. Trump." This came after Trump had suggested that he may ban TikTok from the U.S. altogether.

ByteDance, TikTok's Beijing-based owner, wasn't mentioned until the third paragraph. I don't want to downplay the importance of founder Zhang Yiming or his executive team, who have done a fabulous job of building a powerhouse of an internet company, but this deal already transcends them.

Nadella is the kingmaker now.

 

The architect of Microsoft's transformation from PC operating systems to cloud computing, he's already overseen some big deals. Within a year of taking over as CEO in 2014, he bought the Swedish games company behind Minecraft; later, he closed the $24 billion purchase of professional-network site LinkedIn Corp.

An earlier idea to have TikTok, or at least the U.S. operations, spun off and bought by existing ByteDance investors looked good on paper. But it likely wouldn't have allayed U.S. concerns about data privacy and Chinese control given how opaque the ownership structure would be afterward.

As my colleague Tae Kim wrote, a TikTok-Microsoft deal makes sense because it could allay antitrust concerns just days after four other tech CEOs were grilled by members of Congress. I also think it might solve the issue of data transparency by putting the U.S. operations of TikTok in the hands of a trusted, publicly listed American company.

Microsoft thinks so, too, outlining how it would transfer and protect user data. The company "would ensure that all private data of TikTok's American users is transferred to and remains in the United States," it said. Any such data currently stored outside the U.S. would be deleted from servers overseas, it continued.

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