Steve Mnuchin’s TikTok Takeover Plan Continues While Senators Ponder a Ban

Steve Mnuchin TikTok takeover
  • Save

Steve Mnuchin TikTok takeover
  • Save
Photo Credit: Solen Feyissa

As US Senators ponder a TikTok ban, Steve Mnuchin continues his work towards making a bid on the China-owned app, angling for a partnership with a tech company like Oracle to rebuild the platform’s algorithm.

After House officials voted to pass a bill requiring TikTok’s Beijing-based parent ByteDance to divest the platform within six months or face a US ban, former Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin revealed his plans to make a bid to buy TikTok. US Senators continue deliberations on the bill, making its future uncertain, especially before an election cycle. But that’s just giving Mnuchin more time to consider his options when it comes to partnering with an AI firm that can quickly rebuild TikTok’s algorithm.

Mnuchin first revealed that he was flirting with the idea of making a bid to buy TikTok last month when the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill to force its divestment. Now, the NY Post has learned that Mnuchin is angling a plan to rebuild TikTok’s algorithm in the US as “the only likely way to satisfy Congressional concerts that the app poses a national security risk.” Further, plans to rebuild aspects of the platform could ease the amount of tech China would have to hand over, given the country’s strict export laws.

Previously, Mnuchin told CNBC that any company looking to acquire TikTok would inevitably need to rebuild aspects of the platform in the US. China “will be fine selling [TikTok] so long as there’s not a technology transfer along the way,” said Mnuchin.

According to sources close to the matter, Mnuchin believes any effort to rebuild TikTok’s “sophisticated algorithm” would require a tech partner with advanced AI expertise. That could require a partnership with more than one tech firm, but multiple experts believe Oracle to be the most likely candidate to join Mnuchin’s bid.

Oracle, the software giant headed by billionaire and Trump campaign donor Larry Ellison, is notably already involved in a partnership with TikTok. “Project Texas,” so called because Oracle is based there, is a plan to satisfy national security and user privacy concerns by storing the data of US users in Oracle-operated servers — which themselves are not based in Texas.

Interestingly, The Verge reports that TikTok’s “Project Texas” efforts are “largely cosmetic.” Several former employees revealed that they and their colleagues continued to work closely with ByteDance’s Beijing-based executives even after the plan’s implementation. Others allege that TikTok has never been fully independent from ByteDance, despite TikTok’s claims to the contrary.

When Mnuchin was Treasury secretary during the Trump administration’s efforts to force ByteDance to divest, Oracle “nearly” purchased the app at the time — and experts note that will probably happen this time around too. An Oracle deal would be less likely to draw the regulatory scrutiny associated with a “big tech” firm like Apple, Google, or Meta.

Mnuchin has also told The Washington Post that he had been in touch with former Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who is also said to be interested in acquiring TikTok. Regardless, critics insist it’s still a long shot for Mnuchin or any other potential buyer to secure the approval necessary from both the Chinese and US governments — especially as China continues to vow it will block any forced sale of TikTok.