Trump administration’s TikTok ban has been delayed, court rules

A U.S. federal court has said a ban on TikTok will not go into effect on Monday as scheduled.

The move to delay the anticipated ban will allow Americans to continue using the app while the court considers the ban’s legality and whether the app poses a risk to national security as the Trump administration claims.

For weeks since President Donald Trump signed two executive orders in early August, the government has threatened to shut down the viral video sharing app over fears that its parent company ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing, could be forced to turn over user data to the Chinese government. TikTok, which has 100 million users in the United States alone, has long rejected the claims.

TikTok first filed a lawsuit against the administration on September 18, and on Thursday this week filed a last minute injunction in an effort to stop the ban going into effect Sunday night. On Friday, the government asked the court to reject the injunction in a sealed motion, which the government later refiled as a public motion with some redactions. A public hearing on the injunction was set for Sunday morning. The case is being heard in DC District Court presided by judge Carl J. Nichols.

In its ruling on Sunday, the court gave just its decision, with the formal opinion handed over privately to just the two opposing parties. Due to sensitive material included in the government’s motion, the parties have until Monday to ask for any redactions before the final opinion will be published.

The decision is just the latest episode in the continuing saga of the sprawling fight over the future of the fastest-growing social app in America. A deal reached between ByteDance and the U.S. government last weekend was believed to have resolved the standoff between the two parties, but the deal has frayed over disputed details between buyer Oracle and ByteDance.

The administration first launched an action against TikTok on August 6, with President Trump arguing in an executive order that the app posed an unreasonable national security risk for American citizens. That order mirrored a similar one published the same day that put restrictions on the popular Mandarin-language messenger app WeChat, which is owned by China-based Tencent.

Last weekend, a federal magistrate judge in San Francisco put in place an injunction on the Commerce Department’s ban on WeChat, pending further court deliberations. TikTok, whose arguments mirror those in the WeChat lawsuit, was hoping for a similar outcome in its own legal proceedings.

One difference between the two lawsuits is the plaintiffs. In WeChat’s case, a group of WeChat users filed a lawsuit arguing that a ban would hurt their expression of speech. TikTok is representing itself in its own fight with the government.

The court case is TikTok Inc. et al v. Trump et al (1:2020-cv-02658).

Daily Crunch: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

Companies send out conflicting messages about the TikTok deal, Microsoft acquires a gaming giant and the WeChat ban is temporarily blocked. This is your Daily Crunch for September 21, 2020.

The big story: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

This keeps getting more confusing. Apparently TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has reached a deal with Walmart and Oracle that will allow the Chinese social media app to continue operating in the United States, and the deal has been approved by Donald Trump. But it’s hard to tell exactly what this agreement entails.

ByteDance said it would retain 80% control of TikTok, while selling 20% of the company to Walmart and Oracle as “commercial partner” and “trusted technology partner,” respectively. However, Oracle released a seemingly conflicting statement, claiming that Americans will have majority ownership and “ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

So what’s going on here? We’re trying to figure it out.

The tech giants

Microsoft set to acquire Bethesda parent ZeniMax for $7.5B — ZeniMax owns some of the biggest publishers in gaming, including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios.

Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by US district court — More news about the Trump administration’s efforts to ban some high-profile Chinese apps: A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban on WeChat.

Nikola’s chairman steps down, stock crashes following allegations of fraud — This comes in the wake of a report from a noted short-seller accusing the electric truck company of fraud.

Startups, funding and venture capital

With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn — Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron.

Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League raises $90 million — Mobile Premier League operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments.

A meeting room of one’s own: Three VCs discuss breaking out of big firms to start their own gigs — We talked to Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson, Renegade Partners’ Renata Quintini and Plexo Capital’s Lo Toney.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Edtech investors are panning for gold — At Disrupt, investors told us how they separate the gold from the dust.

Despite slowdowns, pandemic accelerates shifts in hardware manufacturing — China continues to be the dominant global force, but the price of labor and political uncertainty has led many companies to begin looking elsewhere.

The Peloton effect — Alex Wilhelm examines the latest VC activity in connected fitness.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Ireland’s data watchdog slammed for letting adtech carry on ‘biggest breach of all time’ — The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is putting more pressure on the country’s data watchdog to take enforcement action.

Pandemic accelerated cord cutting, making 2020 the worst-ever year for pay TV — According to new research from eMarketer, the cable, satellite and telecom TV industry is on track to lose the most subscribers ever.

Original Content podcast: ‘Wireless’ shows off Quibi’s Turnstyle technology — I interviewed the director of the new Quibi series.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by U.S. district court

A few days ago, the U.S. Commerce Department published a series of rules that aimed to block the downloading of TikTok and WeChat by American users, following an executive order signed by President Trump back in August. TikTok got a last minute reprieve yesterday following its signing of an investment and cloud services deal with Oracle and Walmart, which delayed the implementation of its download ban at least for a week. However, WeChat was effectively going to be shut down today, with a ban on downloads and a ban on any services that powered the service.

Now, there is a new wrinkle in the battle over the future of the social app, which is widely used in Chinese-speaking communities and is owned by China-based Tencent. A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban, following a lawsuit of WeChat users arguing that the ban undermined the free speech rights of American citizens. That court case, U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump, will be allowed to proceed.

In her short opinion published yesterday, United States magistrate judge Laurel Beeler, argued that the government’s case showed weaknesses on First Amendment grounds, its authority to act within existing legislation to allow the government to control industry, and its overall vagueness compared to the damage a ban would likely have on the Chinese-speaking community in the United States.

From her opinion:

Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national- security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns. And, as the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security.

Given the likelihood of a lawsuit proceeding and the immediate damage a ban would have if implemented, the judge initiated a nationwide injunction against implementation of the Commerce Department’s order to ban the app.

Commerce will have a chance to respond to this development, and whether it chooses to edit its order, pursue other avenues through the courts, or just rescind the order entirely, we will see in the coming days.

The TikTok deal solves quite literally nothing

Well… that was pointless.

After debasing the idea of free commerce in the U.S in the name of a misplaced security concern, stringing along several multi-billion dollar companies that embarrassed themselves in the interest of naked greed, and demanding that the U.S. government get a cut of the profits, the TikTok saga we’ve been watching the past few weeks finally appears to be over.

A flurry of announcement late Saturday night indicate that the TikTok deal was actually a politically-oriented shakedown to boost the cloud infrastructure business of key supporters of the President of the United States.

Oracle, whose cloud infrastructure services run a laughable fourth to AWS, Alphabet*, and Microsoft, will be taking a 20 percent stake in TikTok alongside partner Walmart in what will be an investment round before TikTok Global (as the new entity will be called) goes public on an American stock exchange.

According to a statement from TikTok, Oracle will become TikTok’s “trusted technology partner” and will be responsible for hosting all U.S. user data and securing associated computer systems to ensure U.S. national security requirements are fully satisfied. “We are currently working with Walmart on a commercial partnership as well,” according to the statement from TikTok.

Meanwhile, Oracle indicated that all the concerns from the White House, U.S. Treasury, and Congress over TikTok had nothing to do with the service’s selection of Oracle as its cloud provider. In its statement, Oracle said that “This technical decision by TikTok was heavily influenced by Zoom’s recent success in moving a large portion of its video conferencing capacity to the Oracle Public Cloud.”

The deal benefits everyone except U.S. consumers and people who have actual security concerns about TikTok’s algorithms and the ways they can be used to influence opinion in the U.S.

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance gets to maintain ownership of the U.S. entity, Oracle gets a huge new cloud customer to boost its ailing business, Walmart gets access to teens to sell stuff, and U.S. customer data is no safer (it’s just now in the hands of U.S. predators instead of foreign ones).

To be clear, data privacy and security is a major concern, but it’s not one that’s a concern when it comes to TikTok necessarily (and besides, the Chinese government has likely already acquired whatever data they want to on U.S. customers).

For many observers, the real concern with TikTok was that the company’s Chinese owners may be pressured by Beijing to manipulate its algorithm to promote or suppress content. Companies in China — including its internet giants — are required to follow the country’s intelligence and cloud security law mandating complete adherence with all government orders for data.

The Commerce Department in its statement said that “In light of recent positive developments, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, at the direction of President Trump, will delay the prohibition of identified transactions pursuant to Executive Order 13942, related to the TikTok mobile application that would have been effective on Sunday, September 20, 2020, until September 27, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.” So that’s a week reprieve.

So all this sound and fury … for what? The best investment return in all of these shenanigans is almost certainly Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz’ investment into Trump, who in addition to being a heavy donor to the Trump administration, also joined the presidential transition committee back in 2016. Thank god the U.S. saved TikTok from the crony capitalism of China. Let’s just hope they enjoy the crony capitalism of Washington DC.

*An earlier version of this article referred to AWS, Amazon and Microsoft. AWS and Amazon are the same company. I was typing fast. I’ve corrected the error.

President Trump reportedly has approved the Oracle deal for TikTok’s US operations

President Donald Trump said has has given his stamp of approval “in concept” on the Oracle bid for the U.S. operations of the wildly popular social media app, TikTok, according to a report from Bloomberg.

According to the Bloomberg report Trump said, “I have given the deal my blessing,” as he left the White House for a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday.

“I approved the deal in concept,” Trump reportedly said.

The spinout of TikTok’s U.S. operations from its parent company Bytedance was something that Trump administration had demanded on the grounds that the company’s data handling policies and popularity in the U.S. posed a national security threat.

The President’s push to sever the applications ties to China also followed TikTok users’ alleged prank that turned what was supposed to be a triumphal rally for the President in Oklahoma City into a Presidential campaign embarrassment that cost the job of Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

That said, the U.S. has been looking to curtail the operations of several Chinese technology companies on the grounds that they pose security threats to the U.S. Indeed, the Presidential order that demanded TikTok’s spinout also called for the discontinuation of the U.S. operations of the messaging service WeChat, which is owned by Tencent — one of China’s largest technology companies. And the U.S. government has also put a target on the telecommunications and networking technology developer, Huawei.

With the TikTok deal set to be approved, a new company called TikTok Global will be created as part of the deal, according to statements from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earlier this week.

Bloomberg reported that Trump said the new company would be headquartered in Texas, would hire as many as 25,000 people and would contribute $5 billion toward U.S. education.

The bulk of TikTok’s U.S. operations are now in Los Angeles.

As the Trump Administration continues its push to disrupt the operations of Chinese tech companies in the U.S., strange bedfellows are uniting to voice opposition to the deal.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the head of Facebook’s Instagram subsidiary both came out with statements opposing the proposed transaction.

“This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement on Friday.

And the dragnet against Chinese influence through ownership of U.S. technology companies has reportedly widened to include many of the top U.S. gaming companies, which have been backed (or are wholly owned) by Tencent.

All of this could be exceptionally bad for U.S. technology businesses, as Instgram’s chief, Adam Mosseri pointed out in a series of Friday tweets.

“A US ban of TikTok would be meaningful step in the direction of a more fragmented nationalized internet, which would be bad for US tech companies which have benefited greatly from the ability to operate across borders,” Mosseri wrote.

TikTok rumors beg the question: Did Trump solve anything?

Over the past 24 hours, rumors picked up by Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and CNBC have put some boundaries on what a possible deal between Oracle and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance will look like.

In its current incarnation floating around the DC press corps, it appears that TikTok’s data on American users will be stored in Oracle’s cloud, with Oracle acting as a “trusted technology partner.” Oracle will have some sort of real-time source code verification duty, in which it will audit TikTok’s codebase to ensure that there aren’t “backdoors” that allow China to siphon data into its national security apparatus. ByteDance will create a new organization for its U.S. operations, which will have a board of directors approved by the U.S. government and will have a license agreement to access TikTok’s algorithms. One member of that board (at least) will come from the American national security community.

There remains a pretty yawning gap in these rumors over what the ownership of this new entity looks like, and precisely who is going to own what. Oracle is presumed to take a fairly large stake, with CNBC reporting this morning that it will get a 20% stake. Walmart apparently has broken away from its deal partner Microsoft, and is still pursuing some sort of deal engagement with the company, now with Oracle as its champion.

While President Trump has repeatedly said that a deal had to be reached by September 15, his executive order gave the parties until September 20 to hash out an agreement. Therefore, we expect a final deal to be approved — or denied outright — in the next two to three days.

Obviously, all terms are still under negotiation, and for all we know, McDonalds will end up buying the company (it’s been that kind of year).

Given what we know so far though, how did the Trump administration do in furthering its goals? The administration has repeatedly said that it wants to protect American users, particularly the young users who love TikTok, from the prying eyes of China. It also wanted to ensure that any protections would last into the future and couldn’t be changed retrospectively by, say, a more aggressive future policy implemented by China. And Trump has also said that the U.S. government should be paid for allowing the company to essentially continue to exist in the U.S. at all.

The latter point is the easiest one — U.S. government lawyers have said outright that the country can’t accept a payment for allowing a deal through, a point that Trump now appears to agree with.

So let’s head over to national security and privacy. Hosting American data on American soil helps with some jurisdictional issues of course. So-called data sovereignty laws have been popular in the European Union, China, India, Brazil and elsewhere as a means of ensuring that citizen data comports with the laws of those citizens’ countries. If the EU wants better privacy protections than America for instance, then it actually needs to “own” its own data to put its policies into place.

However, what has not been made clear is how “TikTok US” (or whatever the entity is called) will be able to take advantage of its parent company’s algorithms without actually handing American data over for processing.

The kinds of algorithms that run TikTok’s feed — like other social media feeds or Google’s search results — require real-time tuning of millions if not billions of parameters benchmarked against the quality of the user experience. For instance, users who linger on a particular video for longer than others, interact with it in specific ways, and share it are all data points that get fed into the “algorithm” to optimize exactly what each user sees in their own feeds.

This is an extraordinarily hard problem, and one that the word “algorithm” barely begins to describe. TikTok has to ingest billions of data points in real time from its app, needs to evaluate mullions of uploaded videos in real time, and needs to curate a custom stream of videos in real time for hundreds of millions of active users. That’s not an algorithm so much as a massively scaled computing system.

In the current deal framework, it sounds like “TikTok US” will supposedly “license” the underlying systems that power TikTok Global’s feeds. Yet, there has so far been zero clarity on how those algorithmic systems can tune their parameters without peering into U.S. data, or even how you can bifurcate such a system into a global half and a U.S.-only half.

One answer might be that the U.S.will just have an entirely independent algorithmic system that is tuned to the tastes of U.S. users and doesn’t take input from other global sources. That might work, although it’s an open question whether the smaller scale of TikTok US’ data will allow it to create as compelling a feed as today.

The larger issue is the pace of change in these systems. Updates to these algorithmic systems happen around the clock as engineers, product managers, data scientists and others determine ever more optimal and novel ways to improve the user experience. TikTok’s engineering team is expected to stay in China, meaning that any entity licensing those systems would have to absorb that constant avalanche of new code changes and integrate it into the U.S. codebase. Worse, those changes would have to be continuously evaluated by Oracle for backdoors — an incredibly hard engineering problem that remains by and large unsolved even if certain services offer a modicum of protection here.

Finally, building this infrastructure is not going to be easy. We haven’t heard much on how long TikTok would have to transition its systems, but it is hard to imagine that the company could rebuild its infrastructure on Oracle, add in real-time source code verification, completely separate its core machine learning algorithms into independent systems, and do all that while continuing to adapt its product to changing consumer whims in anything less than three years. One doesn’t just rebuild the code from scratch of a system used by hundreds of millions of people.

In all honesty, the rapid iterations required of a social media service will wither and die in the deal framework offered here. Which means that TikTok’s U.S. engineering efforts look all but doomed if this deal is approved.

Then there is this deal term of potentially adding an all U.S. government-approved board, with at least one director coming with a national security background. That experience isn’t unheard of in tech companies these days: Amazon just last week added former National Security Agency director Keith Alexander to its board, presumably due to the company’s expanding cloud services sales to the government.

Given that so many of the concerns expressed by the administration were around citizen privacy though, how exactly does this board structure protect privacy whatsoever? The company will essentially replace presumed Chinese surveillance with presumed American surveillance, and that’s a Pyrrhic victory in the end. We’ve heard next to nothing in these rumors about how the company can better protect user data in a more transparent fashion.

So the net-net right now is that the U.S. government isn’t going to get paid its tithe/bribe, the company’s engineering velocity is going to crater from bureaucracy, and its user data won’t have any more protections than what pretty much already exists with other social networks.

Maybe in the end, killing TikTok was the goal all along. Certainly some analysts in the DC national security community would like to see that happen. But at least from the seat over here, what a colossal failure of imagination and opportunity.

Oracle loses $10B JEDI cloud contract appeal yet again

Oracle was never fond of the JEDI cloud contract process, that massive $10 billion, decade-long Department of Defense cloud contract that went to a single vendor. It was forever arguing to anyone who would listen that that process was faulty and favored Amazon.

Yesterday it lost another round in court when the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected the database giant’s argument that the procurement process was flawed because it went to a single vendor. It also didn’t buy that there was a conflict of interest because a former Amazon employee was involved in writing the DoD’s request for proposal criteria.

On the latter point, the court wrote, “The court addressed the question whether the contracting officer had properly assessed the impact of the conflicts on the procurement and found that she had.”

Further, the court found that Oracle’s case didn’t have merit in some cases because it failed to meet certain basic contractual criteria. In other cases, it didn’t find that the DoD violated any specific procurement rules with this bidding process.

This represents the third time the company has tried to appeal the process in some way, four if you include direct executive intervention with the president. In fact, even before the RFP had been released in April 2018, CEO Safra Catz brought complaints to the president that the bid favored Amazon.

In November 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied Oracle’s protest that it favored Amazon or any of the other points in their complaint. The following month, the company filed a $10 billion lawsuit in federal court, which was denied last August. Yesterday’s ruling is on the appeal of that decision.

It’s worth noting that for all its complaints that the deal favored Amazon, Microsoft actually won the bid. Even with that determination, the deal remains tied up in litigation as Amazon has filed multiple complaints, alleging that the president interfered with the deal and that they should have won on merit.

As with all things related to this contract, the drama has never stopped.

Walmart-exclusive TrillerTok will run on Azure, or Oracle, or something

If you can’t keep up with the latest rumor mill on TikTok’s impending doom acquisition, my suggestion is simple: don’t. Or instead, enjoy it for what it is: one of the most absurd bakeoff deals in investment banking history.

Walmart and its always low prices are in the fray. Oracle is looking to find synergies to make enterprise resource planning software more enticing to Gen Z workers. Triller — who the hell are they again? — is supposedly teaming up with an asset management firm (and a planet near the Hoth system) called Centricus according to Bloomberg (to which TikTok responded nah). Twitter is in — maybe? — with key corporate strategic advice from Beyoncé on the social network’s debt underwriting strategy.

SoftBank is apparently looking, and also just happened to announce yesterday its intention to sell off $14 billion of its core Japanese mobile services business to net cash quickly. (The upshot is that at least TikTok lost most of its value before SoftBank’s investment!)

Everything here is absurd. TikTok is absurd. The videos of people doing what they are doing on TikTok are absurd. TikTok’s growth is absurd. A president setting a deadline on the sale of a company is absurd. This process is absurd. Selling a company as large as TikTok in 45 days is absurd. Walmart is absurd (and also a mirage, since they are still banned from New York City lest someone gets discounted soap in a pandemic).

I warned a few weeks ago to “beware bankers” peddling TikTok rumors. And that’s still the right answer, in the sense that of course we are going to get to the furthest reaches of the M&A universe as bankers try to salvage TikTok’s final sale price (“We’re approaching the Centricus system, sir!”). But that approach is so much more boring than just assuming that every rumor is true and trying to imagine Wall Street advisors trundling through this morass of bids.

My advice here is simple: let’s all take our analyst hats off for a week and put on our clown costumes, since — and it’s key you don’t work at TikTok for this or have money at stake in the company — this story is actually enjoyable.

COVID-19 is serious, the U.S. presidential election is weeks away, social justice in our cities is critically important. Just in the past few hours, T’Challa passed away, Hurricane Laura ripped up the Gulf Coast, and the longest continuously-serving Japanese prime minister of the post-war era (yes, I know, that’s a lot of qualifiers) just resigned due to health issues. It can get weighty on the front pages of the newspapers these days.

So it’s just nice to know that you can flip to the business pages and get some farce.

Maybe this whole story will eventually turn into the next great business book à la Barbarians at the Gate. But at least the barbarians then knew how to destroy a company with the proper levels of debt leverage. Here, you’ve got the pre-smoldered detritus of a business being bid on by the company that brought us The Greeter.

Whatever this saga brings next (hint: Microsoft buying the company), I’ll just say this: the warmth and cheeriness that TikTok provided millions of teenagers though short videos of awakward dance routines is the same mirth that it provides acerbic financial analysts with a caustic eye on the markets. In what has been a miserable year for all of us, for that small twinkle of amusement, I’m thankful.

Just what would an enterprise company like Microsoft or Oracle do with TikTok?

By now you’ve probably heard that under pressure from the current administration, TikTok owner ByteDance is putting the viral video service up for sale, and surprisingly a couple of big name enterprise companies are interested. These organizations are better known for the kind of tech that would bore the average TikTok user to tears. Yet, stories have persisted that Microsoft and even Oracle are sniffing around the video social network.

As TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton pointed out last week, bankers involved in the sale have a lot of motivation to leak rumors to the press to drive up the price of TikTok. That means none of this might be true, yet the rumors aren’t going away. It begs the question: Why would a company like Oracle or Microsoft be interested in a property like TikTok?

For starters, Oracle is a lot more than the database company it was known for in the past. These days, it has its fingers in many, many pies, including marketing automation and cloud infrastructure services. In April, as the pandemic was just beginning to heat up, Zoom surprised just about everyone when it announced a partnership with Oracle’s cloud arm.

Oracle isn’t really even on the board when it comes to cloud infrastructure market share, where it is well behind rivals AWS, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and IBM, wallowing somewhere in single-digit market share. Oracle wants to be a bigger player.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has successfully transitioned to the cloud as well as any company, but still remains far behind AWS in the cloud infrastructure market. It wants to close the gap with AWS, and owning TikTok could get it closer to that goal faster.

Simply put, says Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, if Oracle combined Zoom and TikTok, it could have itself a couple of nice anchor clients. Yes, like the proverbial mall trying to attract Target and Nordstrom, apparently Oracle wants to do the same with its cloud service, and if it has to buy the tenant, so be it.

“TikTok will add plenty of load to their infrastructure service. That’s what matters to them with viral loads preferred. If Microsoft gets TikTok it could boost their usage by between 2% and 5%, while for Oracle it could be as much 10%,” he said. He says the difference is that Oracle has a much smaller user base now, so it would relatively boost its usage all the more.

As Mueller points out, with the government helping push TikTok’s owner to make the sale, it’s a huge opportunity for a company like Oracle or Microsoft, and why the rumors have weight. “It’s very plausible from a cloud business perspective, and plausible from a business opportunity perspective created by the U.S. government,” he said.

While it could make sense to attract a large user base to your systems to drive up usage and market share in that way, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that just by having a large U.S. tech company buy the video app could make it less attractive to the very users Microsoft or Oracle is hoping to capture.

“An old-guard enterprise tech company buying Tiktok would likely lessen the appeal of current users. Younger people are already leaving Facebook because the old folks have taken it over,” Leary said. And that could mean young users, who are boosting the platform’s stats today, could jump ship to whatever is the next big social phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that just today, the president indicated support for Oracle, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The publication also reported that Oracle’s billionaire owner Larry Ellison is a big supporter of the president, having thrown him a fundraiser for his reelection bid at his house earlier this year. Oracle CEO Safra Catz also has ties to the administration, having served on the transition team in 2016.

It’s unclear whether these companies have a genuine interest, but the general feeling is someone is going to buy the service, and whoever does could get a big boost in users simply by using some percentage of their cash hordes to get there. By the way, another company with reported interest is Twitter. Certainly putting the two social platforms together could create a mega platform to compete more directly with Facebook.

You might see other big names trying to boost cloud infrastructure usage, like IBM or Google, enter the fray.  Perhaps even Amazon could make an offer to cement its lead, although if the deal has to go through the federal government, that makes it less likely, given the tense relationship between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the president that surfaced during the Pentagon JEDI cloud contract drama.

Apple has already indicated that in spite of having the largest cash on hand of any company, with over $193 billion, give or take, it apparently isn’t interested. Apple may not be, but somebody surely is, even some companies you couldn’t imagine owning a property like this.

If Oracle buys TikTok I’ll go to Danny’s house and eat his annoying Stanford sweatshirt

Hey everyone, how are you? Are you doing well? Great. Or, condolences, depending.

Anyway, last week the Equity crew was discussing bankers, and how they love to talk up stuff.

The topic matters as there is a big impending transaction out there in the world, namely the shotgun sale of TikTok. And all sorts of folks are nattering about who might just be interested in making a bid for the Facebook competitor.

Danny did a blog about the situation. He said that TikTok is possibly worth “tens of billions of dollars,” but only if the social giant can “find a number of deep-pocketed buyers who are willing to bid the price up.” In short, if only Microsoft rocks up with checkbook, TikTok could go on the cheap given that there would be precisely no one to counter-bid.

Danny then made an interesting point. What might a grievance of bankers do when they want to sell an asset, say, not for $5 billion, but for $10 billion? AstroTurf some FOMO by adding more chatter and names to the mix, of course: (bolding: TechCrunch):

So what do the investment bankers at the heart of the deal do? They run the deal around to every corporate development department in the country, and they leak the information to reporters to try to drum up FOMO in other departments, all in the hope that a board member somewhere starts asking, “Hey, why aren’t we taking a deep look at this?” Heck, I’m sure even Oracle is taking a look — they have data centers and “synergy” potential, and its CEO Safra Catz is a major Trump supporter as well, and could navigate the coming policy shenanigans.

And then later on, CNBC reported that “Oracle is in talks to acquire TikTok’s U.S. operations, challenging Microsoft,” according to a source. And the FT wrote a piece entitled “Oracle enters race to buy TikTok’s US operations.”

So it’s time to put our little theory to the test with a wager. If Oracle buys TikTok then I, Alex Wilhelm, will convince my partner to let me take a train to New York, where I will eat Danny’s annoying Stanford sweatshirt that he always wears when we record the podcast.

Here’s Danny wearing it earlier today:

Photo via Danny “I Hate You” Crichton, and his lovely partner.

If Oracle does not buy TikTok, then, well, nothing. Good job Microsoft, we guess. But here’s a marker in the sand.

And just to be clear, this is nothing against Alex Sherman (whom I like and read) or the CNBC tech crew (which is stacked with great folks). The FT was also great, back when I could read it.

The wager is good until TikTok gets the boot or sells to someone. Let’s go.