TikTok denies it’s in talks with rival app Triller over potential bid for its U.S. operations

TikTok logos are seen on smartphones in front of a displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration taken November 27, 2019.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Chinese-owned TikTok is not in talks to sell its U.S. business to rival short-video-sharing app Triller, the company told CNBC on Monday. 

“We can confirm that we are not and will not be in talks with them. Still, we are flattered by how much they admire TikTok,” a spokesperson for TikTok said. 

Still, Triller executive chairman Bobby Sarnevesht insisted that the bid had been submitted. “We have confirmation that the chairman (Zhang Yiming) and people pretty high up at ByteDance are aware of it, and, we have correspondence going,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday.

His comments came after Bloomberg News reported that London-based Centricus Asset Management and U.S. app Triller were seeking to buy TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and India for $20 billion, citing a person familiar with the matter. The bid was said to have been submitted to TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance. 

ByteDance pointed CNBC to TikTok’s comment on the matter. The company also denied knowledge of the offer to Reuters. TikTok executives are also said to be unaware of receiving such a bid and said that no one from the Chinese-owned short-video-sharing app has spoken with Triller on this matter. 

TikTok, which has about 100 million monthly active users in the United States, is being forced to sell its U.S. business by the Trump administration, which says the app’s current ties to China make it a national security threat. In an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Aug. 6, the U.S. alleged China may potentially have access to “Americans’ personal and proprietary information” due to the data collected by TikTok.

For its part, TikTok has consistently denied those allegations and says its U.S. user data is stored in the country itself with a backup in Singapore and that its data centers are located outside China, implying the information was not subjected to Chinese law. 

TikTok has also sued the U.S. government alleging it was deprived of due process and former CEO, Kevin Mayer, recently left the company just months after joining in June

ByteDance is in talks with Microsoft, Oracle and other investors in the company for the sale of TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline. Earlier this month, CNBC’s David Faber reported that Microsoft could buy TikTok for as much as $30 billion.

Triller’s supposed bid of $20 billion puts it at a similar level. But, Centricus on its website says it oversees $27 billion of assets, so, it wasn’t immediately clear how the deal could be funded.

Sarnevesht insisted it was not a publicity stunt. “We are not crazy, we are not out here just pretending to have a bid and not have a bid. That doesn’t make any sense. It’s perplexing at least, but I think there’s just an aggregate delay on their data and how they share that information,” he told CNBC.

He said the reason Triller entered the bidding game late was because it was working on an implementation plan if it acquired TikTok’s operations.

He declined to say how much the potential deal could be worth but added that Triller planned to migrate TikTok’s users, metadata and content onto its platform. 

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