TikTok misses deadline to sell US operations as negotiations continue

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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According to sources, a deadline set by the administration of American President Donald Trump for the forced sale of short video platform TikTok’s US assets has passed without a final deal.

Although the deadline has been extended several times, it is not anticipated that TikTok will receive a new one, the sources said. TikTok is still in negotiations with the US government about a sale that meets the national security concerns of the administration.

The US Treasury Department told TikTok and ByteDance, the Chinese parent company, that since the sides are still negotiating, they will not face a fine or other penalty for missing the deadline. The deal, which has been in operation for months, is approaching completion, and the administration is eager to finish it before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.

The fate of TikTok, which is greatly popular among teenagers, has been caught up for months in President Donald Trump’s crackdown on Chinese technology companies and their influence in the US. The administration has argued that Americans’ private data gathered through the app could be handed over to the authoritarian regime in China, something TikTok has said it would never do.

Mr. Trump had ordered in August that the app be sold to an American firm or face a ban in the US. But as the presidential election loomed in November and now with a new president-elect, TikTok seems to have slipped off the top of Mr. Trump’s agenda.

A deal that almost came through

In mid-September, Trump gave his blessing to a preliminary proposal in which ByteDance will sell part of TikTok to Oracle, Walmart and US investors Sequoia Capital, KKR & Co. and General Atlantic, establishing TikTok Global, a new independent company. But that deal has been stuck in limbo for months, and the US election and rising COVID-19 cases have overshadowed it.

ByteDance has announced that its proposal would place American businesses and investors in control of data and content moderation for US users, a key demand of the US Foreign Investment Committee. A week ago, because the department said it needed time to review a revised application, the Committee granted ByteDance its last extension.

China also will eventually need to give its blessing to the deal. State media has spoken out against Trump’s order, and a foreign ministry spokesman called it “bullying.”

TikTok has filed multiple challenges against the ban, which are winding their way through the courts, with deadlines in certain proceedings extending past January. Several judges have already blocked the ban from going into effect and the US Commerce Department said it would comply with those court rulings as the government appeals.

Those cases could lapse when Mr. Biden takes office in January, unless he decides to enforce the Trump ban and defend the previous administration’s orders in court.