In brief: One year ago, ByteDance-owned TikTok was negotiating selling its operations in the US to one or more American companies in an effort to avoid a country-wide ban. Microsoft failed in its attempt to take over the Chinese company's US assets, but CEO Satya Nadella said it was a strange and interesting project to work on.
Last year, ByteDance was ordered by then-US President Donald Trump to separate TikTok from its Chinese operations, or else face a country-wide ban. Following a national security review by the US Committee on Foreign Investments, the company was forced to find a buyer for the popular app on American soil that would act as a trusted overseer for the company's business infrastructure in the US.
One of the potential buyers was Microsoft, which was supposed to acquire the company's operations in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. However, Oracle and Walmart also expressed their interest in buying TikTok, and Trump was initially in favor of such a deal, at least in principle. Discussions ultimately fell apart after several months of back and forth, and the app is currently working without issue in the US.
During the Code Conference in Beverly Hills, California, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a few remarks about his experience in working with TikTok. Nadella told journalist Kara Swisher "it's the strangest thing I've ever worked on," and she agreed to this sentiment, noting it was also "the strangest thing I've ever reported."
Interestingly, it wasn't Microsoft that approached TikTok. Instead, TikTok came to the Redmond company as it felt that it needed a strong partner after getting caught in a trade war between Washington and Beijing. Nadella was intrigued about the opportunity, as it was a "great property" with some interesting engineering behind it.
He is, of course, referring to TikTok's scale and influence, which were achieved thanks in no small part to a well-guarded AI-based content recommendation system.
On Monday, TikTok said it had reached one billion monthly users, which is no small feat for a platform that has only existed for five years. As for ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming, he was apparently drawn to Microsoft's capabilities in the area of cloud security, content moderation and child safety, which were developed extensively through work on social platforms like Xbox and LinkedIn.
Nadella said he didn't know if the Biden Administration is still interested in pushing for a deal, and that he's happy with how things are right now. As of writing, the whole plan has been shelved indefinitely while President Biden reviews his predecessor's efforts in the direction of addressing potential risks to national security from Chinese tech companies.
Swisher also tried to get Nadella to open up about the reportedly unsuccessful talks to buy Discord, but he quickly brushed off her questions and jokingly asked what Discord was. Earlier today, Microsoft said it was not giving up on Skype, which has gotten several new features and design changes.