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TikTok and Oracle might have a deal. But Trump still needs to sign off

CNN logo CNN 9/18/2020 By Brian Fung and Selina Wang, CNN Business
a screenshot of a cell phone: In this photo illustration, the download page for the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC. On Thursday evening, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bans any transactions between the parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, and U.S. citizens due to national security reasons. The president signed a separate executive order banning transactions with China-based tech company Tencent, which owns the app WeChat. Both orders are set to take effect in 45 days. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) © Drew Angerer/Getty Images In this photo illustration, the download page for the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC. On Thursday evening, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bans any transactions between the parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, and U.S. citizens due to national security reasons. The president signed a separate executive order banning transactions with China-based tech company Tencent, which owns the app WeChat. Both orders are set to take effect in 45 days. (Photo Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A deal to keep TikTok operational in the United States is inching forward.

US regulators have tentatively agreed to a deal with the app's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, and its American partner, Oracle, a person familiar with the matter told CNN Business.

If the arrangement gets a formal green light, ByteDance would continue to be the majority shareholder in the short-form video app, the person said. TikTok would also become a global company with headquarters in the United States, while Oracle will host TikTok's user data and review TikTok's code for security. The deal is meant to satisfy the US government's national security concerns about the app.

Under the proposal, the US government would approve members of TikTok's board; one board member is to be an expert in data security and would hold a top-secret security clearance, according to the person. That appointee would also be responsible for chairing a security committee whose members would be US citizens individually approved by the US government, the person said.

The new global company is expected to file for an initial public offering in about 12 months, the person said, with plans to be listed on a US stock exchange.

Walmart may also still have a role to play in the deal as a possible minority investor and e-commerce partner, the person said, but no final decision has been made. If it were to become a minority investor, Walmart would likely get a seat on the board, according to the person.

NBC News was first to report the details of the board structure.

The companies have been hashing out the complex business arrangement in the days leading up to September 20, when a potential ban on TikTok in the United States is scheduled to go into effect. That ban, though, would not restrict the social media app's employees from receiving wages or benefits, and it would not make it a crime for those employees to perform their day jobs, the US government said in a court filing Monday. (That clarification was issued in response to a lawsuit a TikTok employee filed against the government because of the looming ban.)


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The person who spoke to CNN Business said that the US government sent ByteDance and Oracle a revised term sheet late Wednesday, which both companies accepted. There are still changes to the proposal that are being discussed, the person said. Bloomberg first reported the revised terms.

The New York Times has also reported that TikTok has spoken to Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom about possibly becoming the company's CEO, after former chief Kevin Mayer resigned last month.

The person who spoke to CNN Business confirmed that TikTok has had discussions with Systrom, though did not elaborate on the nature of those talks.

The new arrangement is not entirely in the clear, and the terms could provoke pushback from President Donald Trump, who must still approve it. At a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Trump indicated that he was opposed to the prospect of ByteDance retaining a majority share in TikTok.

"Conceptually, I can tell you I don't like that," he said. "If that's the case, I'm not going to be happy with that."

Trump's cabinet officials were briefed on the deal Wednesday, the person said. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr appeared to be supportive of the proposal, according to the person, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was described as "neutral" and requested more details on how TikTok data would be protected. Pompeo later expressed his support for the deal to Trump in a meeting on Thursday, the person said.

Meanwhile a raft of lawmakers have weighed in on the proposal, with Sen. Josh Hawley — a vocal critic of TikTok remaining under ByteDance's control — urging that it be rejected.

"The available evidence compels only one conclusion: ByteDance has no intention whatsoever of relinquishing ultimate control of TikTok," Hawley wrote in a letter to Mnuchin on Monday. "That is precisely the problem that the President's action sought to solve, and it is that same problem that the proposed Oracle partnership leaves fully intact. In short, the proposal violates the President's executive order."

Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday he had received a briefing on the deal from Oracle and the Treasury Department, calling it "informative."

"The only thing that matters is whether we are protecting the personal & consumer data of Americans from being collected by &/or diverted to #China," he tweeted.

ByteDance has said that any deal needs to follow applicable laws in China as well. Last month, China revised rules that govern the sale of certain kinds of technology to foreign buyers. The updated list includes data processing, speech and text recognition — the kind of tech that experts say is used by TikTok.

The current proposal, though, does not involve a sale of Bytedance's technology, according to the person who spoke to CNN Business.

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