September 29, 2023

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Google parent Alphabet considered buying a slice of TikTok, report says


TikTok includes short-form videos that last for up to a minute.

Angela Lang/CNET

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has reportedly thought about buying a small stake in TikTok as part of a group bid for the short-form video app. 

A group of companies have reportedly talked about forming a consortium to invest in TikTok but that “effort has fizzled in recent days,” Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing anonymous sources. Alphabet wasn’t leading this effort but the company was considering having a minority, non-voting stake in TikTok. Alphabet hasn’t ruled out throwing its hate in the ring for future bids, Bloomberg reported.

TikTok and Google declined to comment. 

Purchasing a slice of TikTok, popular among teenagers, could give companies access to a younger audience and more revenue from advertising. Google owns popular video service YouTube and launched a social network called Google Plus before shutting it down last year. But acquiring TikTok’s US operations could also be a double-edged sword. Social networks grapple with a variety of challenging issues including how to moderate content while balancing free speech. While TikTok is known for quirky videos of people lipsyncing and dancing, users have also posted political content. This week, TikTok said it pulled down more than 380,000 videos in the US this year for violating its rules against hate speech.  

TikTok, which is used by 100 million Americans, have been targeted by the Trump administration because it’s owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance. Trump issued an executive order barring any US transactions with ByteDance and its subsidiaries. The order, which would take effect Sept. 20, would effectively ban the short-form video app from operating in the US if ByteDance doesn’t sell TikTok. Trump also recently ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations within 90 days in a separate executive order.

The Trump administration has raised concerns that TikTok could be used by the Chinese government to spy on US citizens and spread propaganda during an election season. TikTok has pushed back against those allegations and says it wouldn’t hand over US user data to the Chinese government even if it were asked to do so.

Several companies have already expressed interest in purchasing TikTok. Microsoft said publicly it’s discussing a deal to buy TikTok’s service in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations could be completed by Sept. 15, which is before the deadline of the executive orders. In an interview with Wired, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has described a potential deal with TikTok as a “poisoned chalice,” adding that “being big in the social media business is no simple game.” Twitter has reportedly held preliminary talks about buying a part of TikTok and Oracle is also reportedly interested. 

ByteDance purchased bought in 2017 in a deal that was valued at up to $1 billion and that app was rebranded as TikTok. The value of TikTok’s U.S. business is between an estimated $20 billion to $50 billion, Bloomberg reported, citing analysts and bankers.

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