WASHINGTON — The owner of the Chinese app TikTok rejected an offer on Sunday from Microsoft to take over the firm’s U.S. operations, Microsoft said, as time runs out on an executive order from President Trump threatening to ban the popular app unless its American operations are sold.
Microsoft was seen as the American technology company with the deepest pockets to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations from its parent company, ByteDance, and with the greatest ability to address national security concerns that led to Mr. Trump’s order. The move leaves Oracle — one of the few Silicon Valley firms to publicly ally with Mr. Trump — as the sole publicly known remaining bidder for TikTok.
ByteDance has indicated that Oracle would be its “technology partner,” but it was unclear whether that meant it would also take a majority ownership stake of the app, according to people involved in the negotiations.
“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft,” Microsoft said in a statement. “We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.”
ByteDance declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Microsoft had said in August that it would insist on a series of protections that would essentially give it control of the computer code that TikTok uses for the American and many other English-speaking versions of the app. Weeks later, China issued new regulations that would essentially bar TikTok from transferring its technology to a foreign buyer without explicit permission from the Chinese government.
The Chinese regulations helped scuttle the effort by Microsoft, which said the only way it could both protect the privacy of TikTok users in the United States and prevent Beijing from using the app as a venue for disinformation was to take over the computer source code underlying the app, and the algorithms that determine what videos are seen by the 100 million Americans who use it each month.
“We would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combating disinformation,” Microsoft said in its statement.
Oracle has said nothing publicly about what it would do with TikTok’s underlying technology, which is written by a Chinese engineering team in Beijing — and which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has charged is answerable to Chinese intelligence agencies. That is a major concern of American intelligence agencies, led by the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command, which warned internally that whoever controls the computer code could channel — or censor — a range of politically sensitive information to specific users.
ByteDance and TikTok have denied that they help the Chinese government.
TikTok has become the latest flash point between Washington and Beijing over the control of technology that affects American lives. The Trump administration had already banned the Chinese telecom giant Huawei from selling next-generation, or 5G, networks and equipment in the United States, citing the risk…