Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates said the software giant, which is in talks to acquire the U.S. business of Chinese-owned video app TikTok, is careful about promises to keep data safe and wouldn’t do anything viewed as “hostile” as it navigates U.S. and Chinese concerns.
As part of an initial deal proposal announced Aug. 2, Microsoft has said it will move all data related to U.S. TikTok users in order to make sure it is stored domestically. The Trump administration has threatened to ban the video-sharing app in the U.S., citing national-security risks, and regulators have expressed concern about the potential for the Chinese government to use TikTok to collect information on U.S. citizens. Some of the administration’s China hawks have also argued that Microsoft’s business ties to China mean it shouldn’t be allowed to complete the purchase.
“Microsoft is very careful about its data promises, and will try to have strong relationships globally,” Gates said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang. “We won’t do things that are hostile or viewed as hostile.”
Gates, who co-founded Microsoft in 1975 and ran it for 25 years, left the board earlier this year but still advises Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella. While he’s “not in the target audience” for TikTok, which is especially popular among teens, his youngest daughter has explained it to him, Gates said.
The billionaire philanthropist said he hopes TikTok is allowed to continue to exist and improve the product. President Donald Trump has given a 45-day deadline for the U.S. assets to be sold to an American company his government approves or he has said he will shut it down.
“It’s nice that TikTok’s created some competition through innovation,” Gates said. “It doesn’t seem like preventing that innovation from being available makes much sense.”
At stake is the larger question of how the U.S. treats Chinese companies and how U.S. companies should expect to be allowed to operate in China. Gates was Microsoft’s CEO when the company entered the Chinese market in the early 1990s.
“The whole situation is quite novel in terms of, what are the principles involved here?” he said. “What principles should China apply to companies in China or the U.S., and are those reciprocal and thought through and predictable?”
He suggested the U.S. government be clearer about what is legal in the case of Chinese companies, so investors have that information when they decide which ventures to back.