Microsoft will move forward with talks to buy TikTok's U.S. operations following a discussion between its chief executive, Satya Nadella, and President Donald Trump, the company said Sunday.
"Microsoft will move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020," the company said in a statement.
The announcement suggests that the White House is open to a deal that would see TikTok's U.S. operations pass entirely to an American owner. Trump had said Friday that he would ban TikTok and that he would not approve a Microsoft takeover.
In a letter circulated to ByteDance employees Monday and sent to NBC News, the CEO of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, said the company disagrees with the decision that it must fully divest TikTok’s U.S. operations, but said it was having “preliminary discussions with a technology company” to clear the way to continue offering the TikTok app in the U.S.
"We do not yet know the exact details of what our end solution will be," Zhang added in the letter.
In recent months, U.S. officials have expressed concerns over TikTok's Chinese ownership and fears that Beijing could use the social media app to gain access to U.S. user data amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China.
TikTok has repeatedly said it is an independent company, free of China’s influence or demands for rights to domestic companies’ data. It claims to have more than 100 million users in the U.S.
Microsoft said it "fully appreciates" the president's concerns and "is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury."
Microsoft also promised to "ensure that all private data of TikTok's American users is transferred to and remains in the United States. To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred."
Microsoft would also buy TikTok in Canada, Australia and New Zealand as part of the deal, Microsoft said, adding that it may also "invite other American investors to participate on a minority basis in this purchase."
Should the deal go through, Microsoft would gain instantaneous entry into the social media space dominated by Facebook and Google, as well as smaller services like Snapchat and Twitter.
A ByteDance representative also told Jiemian News, a Chinese financial news site, Monday that it was exploring the possibility of setting up TikTok’s headquarters outside the United States.
On Sunday, British tabloid newspaper The Sun reported TikTok was planning to move its headquarters to London. NBC News could not independently verify the report.
Responding to Sun's report Monday, a spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the location of the headquarters is a commercial decision for the company to make, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, China's Global Times newspaper reported Monday that Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized the U.S. for its approach to TikTok and "politicizing economic and trade issues," urging the U.S. to provide an “impartial and non-discriminatory business environment” for market players from all countries.