TikTok’s suitors

Fully Charged

Hi all, it's Eric. Earlier this month President Trump effectively mandated the fire sale of the hottest property on the consumer internet, the video-sharing app TikTok, now owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd. It turns out a lot of companies want in on the deal. As of this writing, the list of potential suitors for TikTok includes a handful of the best-known names in enterprise software, and, weirdly, big-box retail.

Here's what we know about the contenders:

Microsoft Corp.: This was the name that emerged first and, unlike some that have followed, there's real logic here. Sure, Microsoft is mostly focused on making software for businesses, but it is not unfamiliar with monetizing the digital activities online teenagers. It sells plenty of Xbox video game consoles and has owned Minecraft for six years without ruining it. The company could also argue that its ownership of LinkedIn gives it an understanding of social media, though most TikTok users probably wouldn't buy it.

Microsoft is also the only member of America's five largest tech companies that hasn't been hauled in front of Congress this summer to defend itself against charges of anticompetitive behavior, so presumably it's decently positioned to avoid antitrust scrutiny.

Walmart Inc.: We learned Thursday that Walmart was joining Microsoft's bid. The retail giant is eager to expand its digital portfolio, and has finally moved aggressively into e-commerce, where it is making slight gains against Amazon.com Inc. The company is also experimenting with online advertising and a marketplace business. So maybe a buzzy consumer app now fits into its portfolio, too?

Oracle Corp.: At first glance Oracle, that sexiest of legacy database companies, may not seem like a logical home for TikTok's dancing teenagers. But TikTok does collect massive amounts of data, and Oracle is good at storage. It has another thing going for it: Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison's relationship to the Trump administration. Trump is driving this unusual process, and Ellison may be his favorite Silicon Valley billionaire. If TikTok wants to ensure that a deal gets done, Oracle is likely a safe destination. Then again, Oracle's relationship with the president wasn't enough when it fought for a multibillion-dollar Defense Department cloud contract. It lost out to Amazon before Microsoft won out.

SoftBank Group Corp.: Over the last several years, if there was a big startup deal going down, Japanese powerhouse SoftBank was likely in the middle of things. Its reported interest in TikTok, then, isn't surprising. Geopolitics could come into play here. If the Trump administration is forcing a deal based on American techno-nationalism, it's hard to imagine TikTok going to anything but an American company.

There have been other, less likely candidates floated. Twitter Inc.'s name came up earlier this month, but has dropped from the public discussion. Sundar Pichai, the Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet Inc. and Google, said Thursday his company was not in the running, after reports that it had considered joining Microsoft's bid.

Whoever does end up buying TikTok won't have its short-lived CEO to contend with. Former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who was supposed to be the centerpiece of the company's strategy to calm fears in the U.S., suddenly quit this week. Taking a company through an unprecedented shotgun marriage ordered by the president of the United States, he suggested in his letter of resignation, was not what he had signed up for.—Eric Newcomer 

If you read one thing

Facebook recently took down posts and groups associated with militias and QAnon, the conspiracy theory, that Facebook deemed to be encouraging violence. But the company didn't take down the page of a militia called the Kenosha Guard before two people were killed in a night of protests and looting in Wisconsin. The Kenosha Guard group had called on "Armed Citizens to Protect our Lives and Property," and users had alerted the company that it was a potential threat. Facebook said that it had no evidence that the alleged shooter "followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited on the Event Page they organized."

And here's what you need to know in global technology news

Get ready for Elon Musk's brain-machine interface company. Neuralink plans to give a "progress update" Friday. 

Facebook might be banned in China, but the social network does allow advertisers to target 3.7 million people there through Instagram. 

Amazon has introduced Halo, a device that makes a 3D scan of users' bodies and tracks emotion in their voices.


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