NEW YORK – The latest twist in the TikTok saga is an especially strange turn in a tale filled with strange turns. Suddenly, Microsoft — known primarily for work software like Windows and Office — is in talks to buy the popular Chinese-owned video app, which has raised national-security concerns for U.S. officials.
The U.S. government is effectively forcing ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, to sell so it can salvage the app in the U.S., a huge and valuable market. President Donald Trump has threatened a “ban” on TikTok and other administration officials and U.S. lawmakers of both parties have said the app's Chinese ownership is a concern.
It’s unclear what shape such a ban would take or whether the sale will go through. TikTok’s users are posting videos saying they are upset and angry. Here's what’s at stake.
Q. What is TikTok again?
A. The app is a home for fun, goofy videos that are easy to make and to watch. That's made it immensely popular, particularly with young people, and U.S. tech giants like Facebook and Snapchat see it as a competitive threat. TikTok says it has 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally. It has its own influencer culture, allowing people to make a living from posting videos on the service, and hosts ads from major U.S. companies.
ByteDance Ltd., a Chinese company, launched TikTok in 2017, then bought Musical.ly, a video service popular with teens in the U.S. and Europe, and combined the two. A twin service, Douyin, is available for Chinese users.
Q. What concerns U.S. officials about the app?
A. TikTok, like most other social networks, collects data about its users and moderates what's posted. It grabs people’s locations and messages they send one another, for example, and tracks what people watch in order to know what kinds of videos they like and how best to target ads to them.