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TikTok Sale Deadline on Hold as Talks With U.S. Continue

Kurt Wagner, Shelly Banjo and Jennifer Jacobs
·3-min read

(Bloomberg) -- A deadline set by the Trump administration for the forced sale of TikTok’s U.S. assets will come and go Friday without a final deal, according to people familiar with the discussions.

While the deadline has been extended multiple times, TikTok isn’t expected to receive a new one, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision isn’t yet public. TikTok is still in talks with the U.S. government about a sale that satisfies the administration’s national security concerns, but Friday’s deadline will be allowed to lapse while the discussions continue.

The U.S. Treasury Department told TikTok and Chinese parent company ByteDance Ltd. that they won’t face a fine or other punishment for missing the deadline because the sides are still negotiating. The deal, which has been in the works for months, is close to being finished, and the administration is eager to complete it before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, according to one of the people.

The fate of TikTok, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times in the U.S., has been caught up for months in President Donald Trump’s crackdown on Chinese technology companies and their influence in the U.S. 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.

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

Trump gave his blessing in mid-September to a preliminary plan in which ByteDance would sell part of TikTok to Oracle Corp., Walmart Inc. and U.S. investors Sequoia Capital, KKR & Co. and General Atlantic, creating a new independent company called TikTok Global. But that deal has been stuck in limbo for months, and was quickly overshadowed by the U.S. election and rising Covid-19 cases.

ByteDance has said its proposal would put American companies and investors in charge of data and content moderation for U.S. users, a key demand of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a panel led by the Treasury Department. The Treasury granted ByteDance its last extension a week ago because the department said it needed time to review a revised submission.

The White House declined to comment. A Treasury spokesperson said Friday night that Cfius was working with ByteDance to finish the divestment to resolve national security concerns.

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 Commerce Department said it would comply with those court rulings as the government appeals.

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

(Updates with Treasury comment, in ninth paragraph.)

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