Chinese company ByteDance denies reports that it's considering selling stake in TikTok as the company looks to repair its image in the US


FILE PHOTO: TikTok logo is displayed on the smartphone while standing on the U.S. flag in this illustration picture taken, November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

  • ByteDance is rumored to be considering selling off TikTok stake, but the company told Reuters and confirmed to Business Insider that it had no plans to sell.
  • TikTok is a short-form video app especially popular among Gen Z, and it has amassed 1.5 billion downloads.
  • US lawmakers have expressed concern over possible national security issues, and TikTok has faced accusations of censorship at the request of the Chinese government.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

ByteDance rejected rumors that it is considering selling off stake in video app TikTok after Bloomberg reported yesterday that the tech giant was thinking about a sale. Reuters reported that ByteDance has no plans for a sale at this time. A ByteDance spokesperson told Business Insider in an email “There have been no discussions about any partial or full sale of TikTok. These rumors are completely without merit.”

Bloomberg’s report emphasized that no formal decisions had been made about the future of TikTok, but it reported that some advisors were suggesting a partial sale. ByteDance denied the sale in an internal memo to employees from TikTok head Alex Zhu, Reuters reported. In the memo to employees, Zhu called the Bloomberg report “inaccurate” and said that ByteDance did not have any plans to sell part or all of its stake in TikTok. “I want to assure you that we have had no discussions with potential buyers of TikTok, nor do we have any intention to,” he said.

ByteDance is the highest-valued privately-held company in the world, worth an estimated $75 billion, and has been called “China’s Facebook” for its size and ownership of popular social networking apps. It launched the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, in 2016, and the international version in 2017. Since then, it has been downloaded 1.5 billion times, and might even be gaining on Instagram and Snapchat in numbers of active users. 

TikTok has faced criticism for its ties to China during its rise. In September, The Guardian reported that moderators on the app were instructed to censor content that could offend the Chinese government, including mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests or Tibetan Independence. TikTok said that the policies were outdated, and that it now uses “localized approaches” to moderation.

US lawmakers have also been critical of TikTok as a potential security risk. In October, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida asked the Trump administration to investigate the app based on what he called “ample and growing evidence” of censorship at the request of China, while Sens. Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton wrote a letter to the head of national security asking for an investigation into the app as a counterintelligence risk. Last week, the Navy banned TikTok from government-issued phones as a “cybersecurity threat.”

In November, the US Senate held a hearing on technology and data security, and invited representatives from major technology companies, including TikTok. TikTok declined to send a representative. Earlier this month, Zhu said he planned to meet with lawmakers about their concerns over TikTok, but then canceled the meetings.

TikTok has made moves that suggest it is looking to expand its US presence and rid itself of legal trouble as a perceived security threat. The company is reportedly looking for a headquarters outside of China to move away from its image as a Chinese company. It has already started building up a Silicon Valley presence, moving into offices that used to be occupied by Facebook-owned WhatsApp, and hiring employees from Facebook, Apple, and Google. 

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