The weird deal Oracle arranged at the behest of the Trump administration to buy TikTok without actually acquiring it has been permanently back-burnered, according to a new report.
The transaction, which has gone effectively nowhere since it was first announced, is now “shelved,” the ever-popular “people familiar with the situation” told The Wall Street Journal. This move effectively puts an end to a saga that played out over many months and many tweets.
Back in August 2020 (roughly a hundred years ago, it now feels like), former President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring TikTok and another China-based app, WeChat, to be a “national emergency.” A week later, a second order (PDF) gave TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, 90 days to divest the app to a US owner or cease operations in the States.
And then it got complicated…
A week before signing the first executive order, however, Trump ordered ByteDance to sell within 45 days to, apparently, Microsoft. Microsoft said at the time it anticipated completing talks with ByteDance by mid-September. Trump at the time said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella could “try” to sell, adding, “If somebody, whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else, buys it, that’ll be interesting.”
Trump swore he would not extend the deadline for a sale past September 15 and then, very suddenly on September 13, Oracle, not Microsoft, apparently emerged victorious from the talks. However, the Oracle deal proved not to be an actual acquisition, as the administration had supposedly wanted. Instead, the deal produced a vague arrangement that would make Oracle TikTok’s “trusted technology partner.”
TikTok meanwhile filed suit against the Trump administration, arguing that the ban was unconstitutional and politically driven. Groups of users also filed suit. Multiple courts agreed with the plaintiffs and granted injunctions blocking Trump’s bans from going into effect in September and October as scheduled.
Ban who? What? I don’t know them.
The TikTok ban was supposed to go into effect on November 12—a week and change after the US presidential election—but in the wake of that election, the Trump administration seemed to more or less completely forget about the company, the alleged national security concerns, and the ban.
TikTok told a court on November 10 that it was attempting to finalize negotiations with the federal government but hadn’t heard back in weeks. Two days later, the Department of Commerce issued a stay on its own plans to enforce the TikTok ban before the ban went into effect.
Although the new administration does not share all of the old administration’s concerns about the bite-sized video sharing platform, the White House has not gone completely hands-off. There still may be some legitimate risks to ByteDance having access to so much US user information.
Senators from both parties asked for a national security probe into TikTok way back in 2019. “TikTok’s terms of service and privacy policies describe how it collects data from its users and their devices, including user content and communications, IP address, location-related data, device identifiers, cookies, metadata, and other sensitive personal information,” the senators wrote at the time. “While the company has stated that TikTok does not operate in China and stores US user data in the US, ByteDance is still required to adhere to the laws of China.”
The Journal reports that the new administration, led by President Joe Biden, is conducting its own review of potential national security issues linked to TikTok before it makes any determination how to move forward from here.
“We plan to develop a comprehensive approach to securing US data that addresses the full range of threats we face,” Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told the WSJ. “This includes the risk posed by Chinese apps and other software that operate in the US. In the coming months, we expect to review specific cases in light of a comprehensive understanding of the risks we face.”