Alphabet 'mulled minor TikTok stake' through its investment arm

Company is said to have planned an investment through a consortium but effort fizzled out

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 11, 2020 the logo of Chinese video app TikTok is seen on the side of the company's new office space at the C3 campus in Culver City, in the westside of Los Angeles.  TikTok on August 17, 2020 stepped up its defense against US accusations that the popular video app is a national security threat, denouncing what it called "rumors and misinformation" about its links to the Chinese government. / AFP / Chris DELMAS
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Google parent Alphabet considered participating in a group bid for TikTok, but the effort fizzled in recent days, according to sources.

Several firms discussed forming a consortium to invest in the popular video-sharing app, with Alphabet weighing a minority, non-voting stake through one of its investment arms, said one of the sources. .

Alphabet did not lead the initiative. It is not clear which US company did, or why the effort ended. Alphabet has not ruled out participating in future bids, said the source.

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, is fielding interest in its operations in the US and a handful of other countries. President Donald Trump recently ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US assets within 90 days, building on an earlier executive order that would prohibit US people and companies from doing business with TikTok effective 45 days from August 6.

Representatives of Alphabet and TikTok declined to comment. ByteDance representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Microsoft has been in discussions for weeks to buy TikTok’s business in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Other companies have also emerged as potential bidders, including Oracle and Twitter. It is unclear how far those discussions have gone. Microsoft is the only company to publicly confirm acquisition talks.

TikTok has emerged as a potent rival to Google’s video-sharing site YouTube, serving as an alternative for creative talent as well as advertising dollars. Google’s parent has multiple investment vehicles, including CapitalG, a private equity arm, which has backed Chinese firms. Google also invests directly off its balance sheet, funding companies such as Magic Leap and SpaceX.

ByteDance bought the service in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, creating an app with more than 100 million users in the US alone. That deal is being unravelled by US officials who, against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing, have alleged the Chinese government could gain access to TikTok users’ personal data and pose a national security risk. Now, the company is facing a fast-approaching deadline to reach a deal or risk a shutdown of its American business.

Analysts and bankers have estimated the value of TikTok’s US business at $20 billion(73.4bn) to $50bn, a wide range that reflects the complexity involved in extricating TikTok’s American operations.

Mountain View, California-based Alphabet would need to tread gingerly around US antitrust enforcers. The Justice Department, state attorneys general and Congress are all investigating Google for potential anti-competitive behaviour, leading to more scrutiny of its acquisitions. Google’s plan to buy Fitbit, announced in November, is still pending regulatory approval.