Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Credit: Johannes Marliem, Flikr

Back last year, the Trump administration was putting pressure on social media giant TikTok, threatening the company’s position in the U.S. market. Microsoft emerged as a potential buyer of a portion of TikTok before Oracle later cut a deal. Speaking of the episode this week at the Code Conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella describes it as the “strangest thing I’ve ever sort of worked on.”

Before getting to Nadella’s comments, a little backstory on this Microsoft/TikTok episode is necessary.

In August 2020, Microsoft registered its interest in the company. The company made a move after (then) President Trump’s decision to ban TikTok from the United States. An executive order signed during July was threatening to prevent ByteDance (TikTok owner) from handling any transactions in the United States.


However, Microsoft interest seemingly began before Trump’s order, going as far as to sign a nonbinding agreement with Chinese company ByteDance. We also reported that Walmart and Microsoft reportedly joined forces on an unlikely joint effort to claim TikTok operations in the United States.

Microsoft was pushing to change TikTok’s security to appease U.S. lawmakers in a deal reportedly with $20 billion. However, ByteDance decided against selling off part of the business. Instead, the company struck a partnership with Oracle to handle TikTok operates in the United States.

Satya Nadella Speaks

Since the short but interesting episode in tech history, Microsoft has kept mostly quiet on what happened. So, info coming from the CEO himself this week is a good insight into Microsoft’s position at the time and how the TikTok deal became real.

Nadella admits it was a strange time, but also that he was “kind of intrigued by it”. It was clear Nadella was/is slightly perplexed by the whole saga but he was eager to point out one key fact:

“TikTok came to us, we didn’t come to TikTok,” he says. Remember, at the time the company was facing security problems and Nadella says the approach followed “these security things we seem to [have been] hearing about.”

He thinks the company is an “interesting product” and may have fit well with Microsoft.

“There was a period of time when I thought the [US government] had a particular set of requirements, [but] it just disappeared,” Nadella says. “President Trump I think had a particular point of view of what he was trying to get done …and then just dropped off.”

Remember that Oracle deal? Well, it is not happening anymore because new president Joe Biden revoked Trump’s controversial order. That means any agreement Microsoft may have made would also probably have been cancelled. When asked if Microsoft would still be interested in TikTok, Nadella was dismissive:

No,” the CEO says, “at this point I’m happy with what I have.

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