This week was the deadline for ByteDance to divorce itself of TikTok
over security concerns, but at press time no deal has been struck. Instead, we have the strangest of corporate entities now taking shape. And, thanks to journalists at the New York Times
, we have perhaps the most delicious morsel of reporting to ever emerge from TikTok deal talks.
Let’s take a look at the latest.
President Donald Trump is expect to decide on TikTok’s fate in the U.S. in the next 24-36 hours, sources told CNBC’s David Faber.
To address ownership concerns, ByteDance plans to do an initial public offering of global TikTok on a U.S. stock exchange, according to people familiar with the matter. Oracle will also own a minority stake that will be less than 20% of the new global TikTok, two of the people said. Walmart will also take a stake, though its size is still unknown, according to two of the people.
The Oracle agreement is facing sharp pushback in Congress, where some lawmakers have argued that its terms don’t go nearly far enough to address the reason why Trump demanded the sale in the first place. A letter sent to Trump on Wednesday by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and five other Republicans said the deal in its current reported form “leaves significant unresolved national security issues.”
In a separate letter to Mnuchin, Texas Senator Ted Cruz also said the deal fell far short. Like other opponents, Cruz called for an “outright sale” of Tiktok if necessary. Some have also demanded TikTok turn over the algorithm that helps determine the content seen by users.
Elsewhere at Bloomberg
, Wadhams and Shelly Banjo report that ByteDance is prepared to give its “trusted technology partner” full access to the code base. The idea, they write, is “to make sure there are no back doors used by the company’s Chinese parent to gather data on the video-sharing app’s 100 million American users.” The sides are said to have agreed in principle on these changes. But it’s still hard to imagine those concessions swaying Rubio, Cruz, and possibly the president.
All of which leaves us more or less where we were when the week began — waiting for the most erratic president in living memory to decide what he wants to do with this thing. But if you are the sort of person who likes to imagine what could be — to dream of a richer, more vibrant world, where each day brings stories that would fill up this column until it overflowed with Shakespearean drama and intrigue — well, here are David McCabe, Erin Griffith, Ana Swanson and Mike Isaac
While rushing to secure a deal, TikTok is also hunting for a permanent chief executive to replace Kevin Mayer, who resigned
in late August, citing the changing political pressures of the role. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok in North America, took over
in the interim.
Among those whom TikTok has talked to about the job is Kevin Systrom, a founder and former chief executive of Instagram, people briefed on the matter said. Talks are preliminary, and no final decisions have been made, they said.
Systrom has been nothing but polite
about Facebook in his public statements since leaving the company. In 2019 he told Josh Constine he wanted to find “the next wave
,” in a comment I took to mean that he had no plans to start another social network. He and Krieger have spent the past couple years kicking around new ideas together, and earlier this year they produced RT.live
, a beautiful and useful real-time tracker for understanding the spread of COVID-19 in each state.
And yet, if Systrom harbored some desire to get back in the game — and start on third base — it’s hard to imagine a more intriguing perch than TikTok. The app is dominant among the younger generation, and yet it still feels as if the company is just scratching the surface of what it could become. It seems possible that TikTok could be the canvas Systrom had once hoped Instagram could be for him over the long term — a quasi-independent company that would allow him to nurture a community, invent new creative tools, and win in business.
On the other hand, Kevin Mayer probably thought that way about TikTok too — and he only lasted in the job for three months
. Even if the geopolitical concerns around TikTok are somewhat resolved, they won’t go totally away. And it’s unclear Systrom would have any more freedom working for the unholy combination of Larry Ellison and Walmart than he had working at Facebook. The new boss, in other words, might look a lot like the old one. I have a much easier time picturing Systrom and Krieger starting a new company than trying to fit themselves into whatever strange beast may be birthed out of ByteDance.
That said, I have no doubt Systrom at least had a conversation or two. Who wouldn’t? The best case scenario is you find a fantastic new role for yourself. And even if you don’t like what you hear, there’s a good chance the news will leak and you can send a shiver up the spine of every person you used to work with in Menlo Park.
Ultimately, I don’t think Systrom would take the job at TikTok. But I sure am glad he took the call.