It’s still unclear whether the deal will satisfy President Trump. Oracle’s executives have close ties to the president, and the company may be well-positioned to meet Trump’s expectations after the president took an active role in raising concerns about TikTok.
TikTok executives believe the deal will take care of worries from the Trump administration and others that its Chinese ownership could open the door for Beijing to obtain U.S. consumer data, according to the person familiar with the talks. The deal would probably involve Oracle, a business software giant best known for selling database technology to corporations to help run their operations, taking a stake in the company.
It’s also unclear whether the Trump administration will approve the deal with Oracle. President Trump previously issued an order that would ban the app in the United States beginning Sept. 20. He followed it with a second order that would essentially require TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest from its operations in the United States.
TikTok has repeatedly insisted it is not a national security threat and that it does not share any U.S. customer information with the Chinese government.
Both Microsoft and Oracle were bidding for that business, which has surged in popularity, particularly with young users. TikTok had 91.9 million monthly active users in the United States in June, up from 26.7 million in February 2019.
Microsoft said separately Sunday in a blog post that its offer to acquire TikTok‘s U.S. operations was rejected. Microsoft was the first to confirm it was courting TikTok this summer as Trump threatened to ban the app over national security concerns.
“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” Microsoft said in its post. “To do this, we would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combating disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement.“
Oracle and TikTok declined to comment. The White House did not have an immediate comment.
While Oracle never seemed like a logical acquirer of TikTok’s U.S. assets, it had one thing going for it during its pursuit: a close relationship with Trump. Oracle’s chief executive, Safra Catz, has dined at the White House with Trump and served on the president’s transition team after his election in 2016. Oracle co-founder and chairman Larry Ellison hosted a fundraiser for Trump this year.
Earlier this year, Ellison helped convince Trump, after a series of conversations, that Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two old anti-malarial drugs, may be game-changing treatments for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Ellison helped arrange a partnership between Oracle and the federal government to crowdsource that idea by collecting data in real time from doctors trying out those and other unproven drugs on covid-19 patients.
Trump has said that a “very substantial portion” of the acquisition price for TikTok would have to be paid to the Treasury because he helped manufacture the deal. While lawyers familiar with international transactions called such an arrangement unusual, it’s possible that Ellison and Catz, as supporters of the Trump campaign for reelection, could figure out a way to satisfy the president’s efforts to secure that payment.
The TikTok deal has been facing a series of obstacles for more than a month and was thrown another hurdle in recent weeks when the Chinese government got involved, slowing the bidding process. Beijing established export rules that prevent the sale of some artificial-intelligence technology that probably includes TikTok’s personalized recommendation algorithm.
The algorithm is TikTok’s secret sauce, technology that makes the service so popular and addictive to its users. Without it, the company’s value to an acquirer is significantly diminished.
Had Microsoft been able to acquire TikTok’s U.S. business, Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. analyst Brad Reback said, the company was well positioned to leverage its operations to make a deal pay off.
“It’s an extraordinary asset with all sorts of ways to make money,” Reback said.
Oracle, though, doesn’t have the operations, such as an online advertising business, to make an acquisition of TikTok’s U.S. operations pay off, he said.
“Oracle’s experience with consumer assets is zero,” Reback said.
While the phrase “technology partner” is vague, Reback said the agreement could call for Oracle to merely provide rudimentary cloud infrastructure services, essentially basic storage and computing functions.
The parameters of the ban are still unclear, and it is up to the Commerce Department to define them.