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ByteDance asks federal appeals court to vacate U.S. order forcing it to sell TikTok

In a new filing, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance asked the federal appeals court to vacate the United States government order forcing it to sell the app’s American operations.

President Donald Trump issued an order in August requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. business by November 12, unless it was granted a 30-day extension by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). In today’s filing (embedded below) with the federal appeals court in Washington D.C., ByteDance said it asked the CFIUS for an extension on November 6, but the order hasn’t been granted yet.

It added it remains committed to “reaching a negotiated mitigation solution with CFIUS satisfying its national security concerns” and will only file a motion to stay enforcement of the divestment order “if discussions reach an impasse.”

Security concerns about TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company were at the center of the executive order Trump signed in August, banning transactions with Beijing-headquartered ByteDance.

The executive order claimed that TikTok posed a threat to national security, though ByteDance maintains that it does not. But in order to prevent the app, which has about 100 million users in the U.S., from being banned, ByteDance reached a deal in September to sell 20% of its stake in TikTok to Oracle and Walmart. With the Biden administration set to take office in January and ByteDance’s ongoing legal challenge against the divestment order, however, the future of the deal is now uncertain.

The new filing is part of a lawsuit TikTok filed against the Trump administration on September 18. It won an early victory when the court stopped the U.S. government’s ban from going into effect on its original deadline that month.

In a statement emailed to TechCrunch, a TikTok spokesperson said it has been working with the CFIUS for a year to address its national security concerns “even as we disagree with its assessment.”

Facing continual new requests and no clarity on whether our proposed solutions would be accepted, we requested the 30-day extension that is expressly permitted in the August 14 order,” the statement continued.

“Today, with the November 12 CFIUS deadline imminent and without an extension in hand, we have no choice but to file a petition in court to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the US.” 

TikTok asks U.S. federal appeals court to vacate U.S. divestment order by TechCrunch on Scribd

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Trump administration’s TikTok ban has been delayed

A U.S. federal court has said a ban on TikTok will not go into effect on Monday as scheduled.

The move to delay the anticipated ban will allow Americans to continue using the app while the court considers the ban’s legality and whether the app poses a risk to national security as the Trump administration claims.

For weeks since President Donald Trump signed two executive orders in early August, the government has threatened to shut down the viral video sharing app over fears that its parent company ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing, could be forced to turn over user data to the Chinese government. TikTok, which has 100 million users in the United States alone, has long rejected the claims.

TikTok first filed a lawsuit against the administration on September 18, and on Thursday this week filed a last minute injunction in an effort to stop the ban going into effect Sunday night. On Friday, the government asked the court to reject the injunction in a sealed motion, which the government later refiled as a public motion with some redactions. A public hearing on the injunction was set for Sunday morning. The case is being heard in DC District Court presided by judge Carl J. Nichols.

In its ruling on Sunday, the court gave just its decision, with the formal opinion handed over privately to just the two opposing parties. Due to sensitive material included in the government’s motion, the parties have until Monday to ask for any redactions before the final opinion will be published.

The decision is just the latest episode in the continuing saga of the sprawling fight over the future of the fastest-growing social app in America. A deal reached between ByteDance and the U.S. government last weekend was believed to have resolved the standoff between the two parties, but the deal has frayed over disputed details between buyer Oracle and ByteDance.

The administration first launched an action against TikTok on August 6, with President Trump arguing in an executive order that the app posed an unreasonable national security risk for American citizens. That order mirrored a similar one published the same day that put restrictions on the popular Mandarin-language messenger app WeChat, which is owned by China-based Tencent.

Last weekend, a federal magistrate judge in San Francisco put in place an injunction on the Commerce Department’s ban on WeChat, pending further court deliberations. TikTok, whose arguments mirror those in the WeChat lawsuit, was hoping for a similar outcome in its own legal proceedings.

One difference between the two lawsuits is the plaintiffs. In WeChat’s case, a group of WeChat users filed a lawsuit arguing that a ban would hurt their expression of speech. TikTok is representing itself in its own fight with the government.

The court case is TikTok Inc. et al v. Trump et al (1:2020-cv-02658).

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Daily Crunch: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

Companies send out conflicting messages about the TikTok deal, Microsoft acquires a gaming giant and the WeChat ban is temporarily blocked. This is your Daily Crunch for September 21, 2020.

The big story: This TikTok deal is pretty confusing

This keeps getting more confusing. Apparently TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has reached a deal with Walmart and Oracle that will allow the Chinese social media app to continue operating in the United States, and the deal has been approved by Donald Trump. But it’s hard to tell exactly what this agreement entails.

ByteDance said it would retain 80% control of TikTok, while selling 20% of the company to Walmart and Oracle as “commercial partner” and “trusted technology partner,” respectively. However, Oracle released a seemingly conflicting statement, claiming that Americans will have majority ownership and “ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

So what’s going on here? We’re trying to figure it out.

The tech giants

Microsoft set to acquire Bethesda parent ZeniMax for $7.5B — ZeniMax owns some of the biggest publishers in gaming, including Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, ZeniMax Online Studios, Arkane, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Studios.

Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by US district court — More news about the Trump administration’s efforts to ban some high-profile Chinese apps: A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban on WeChat.

Nikola’s chairman steps down, stock crashes following allegations of fraud — This comes in the wake of a report from a noted short-seller accusing the electric truck company of fraud.

Startups, funding and venture capital

With $100M in funding, Playco is already a mobile gaming unicorn — Playco is a new mobile gaming startup created by Game Closure co-founder Michael Carter and Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron.

Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League raises $90 million — Mobile Premier League operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments.

A meeting room of one’s own: Three VCs discuss breaking out of big firms to start their own gigs — We talked to Construct Capital’s Dayna Grayson, Renegade Partners’ Renata Quintini and Plexo Capital’s Lo Toney.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Edtech investors are panning for gold — At Disrupt, investors told us how they separate the gold from the dust.

Despite slowdowns, pandemic accelerates shifts in hardware manufacturing — China continues to be the dominant global force, but the price of labor and political uncertainty has led many companies to begin looking elsewhere.

The Peloton effect — Alex Wilhelm examines the latest VC activity in connected fitness.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Ireland’s data watchdog slammed for letting adtech carry on ‘biggest breach of all time’ — The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is putting more pressure on the country’s data watchdog to take enforcement action.

Pandemic accelerated cord cutting, making 2020 the worst-ever year for pay TV — According to new research from eMarketer, the cable, satellite and telecom TV industry is on track to lose the most subscribers ever.

Original Content podcast: ‘Wireless’ shows off Quibi’s Turnstyle technology — I interviewed the director of the new Quibi series.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Trump administration’s WeChat ban is blocked by U.S. district court

A few days ago, the U.S. Commerce Department published a series of rules that aimed to block the downloading of TikTok and WeChat by American users, following an executive order signed by President Trump back in August. TikTok got a last minute reprieve yesterday following its signing of an investment and cloud services deal with Oracle and Walmart, which delayed the implementation of its download ban at least for a week. However, WeChat was effectively going to be shut down today, with a ban on downloads and a ban on any services that powered the service.

Now, there is a new wrinkle in the battle over the future of the social app, which is widely used in Chinese-speaking communities and is owned by China-based Tencent. A district court judge in San Francisco has temporarily stayed the nationwide ban, following a lawsuit of WeChat users arguing that the ban undermined the free speech rights of American citizens. That court case, U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump, will be allowed to proceed.

In her short opinion published yesterday, United States magistrate judge Laurel Beeler, argued that the government’s case showed weaknesses on First Amendment grounds, its authority to act within existing legislation to allow the government to control industry, and its overall vagueness compared to the damage a ban would likely have on the Chinese-speaking community in the United States.

From her opinion:

Certainly the government’s overarching national-security interest is significant. But on this record — while the government has established that China’s activities raise significant national- security concerns — it has put in scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns. And, as the plaintiffs point out, there are obvious alternatives to a complete ban, such as barring WeChat from government devices, as Australia has done, or taking other steps to address data security.

Given the likelihood of a lawsuit proceeding and the immediate damage a ban would have if implemented, the judge initiated a nationwide injunction against implementation of the Commerce Department’s order to ban the app.

Commerce will have a chance to respond to this development, and whether it chooses to edit its order, pursue other avenues through the courts, or just rescind the order entirely, we will see in the coming days.

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The TikTok deal solves quite literally nothing

Well… that was pointless.

After debasing the idea of free commerce in the U.S in the name of a misplaced security concern, stringing along several multi-billion dollar companies that embarrassed themselves in the interest of naked greed, and demanding that the U.S. government get a cut of the profits, the TikTok saga we’ve been watching the past few weeks finally appears to be over.

A flurry of announcement late Saturday night indicate that the TikTok deal was actually a politically-oriented shakedown to boost the cloud infrastructure business of key supporters of the President of the United States.

Oracle, whose cloud infrastructure services run a laughable fourth to AWS, Alphabet*, and Microsoft, will be taking a 20 percent stake in TikTok alongside partner Walmart in what will be an investment round before TikTok Global (as the new entity will be called) goes public on an American stock exchange.

According to a statement from TikTok, Oracle will become TikTok’s “trusted technology partner” and will be responsible for hosting all U.S. user data and securing associated computer systems to ensure U.S. national security requirements are fully satisfied. “We are currently working with Walmart on a commercial partnership as well,” according to the statement from TikTok.

Meanwhile, Oracle indicated that all the concerns from the White House, U.S. Treasury, and Congress over TikTok had nothing to do with the service’s selection of Oracle as its cloud provider. In its statement, Oracle said that “This technical decision by TikTok was heavily influenced by Zoom’s recent success in moving a large portion of its video conferencing capacity to the Oracle Public Cloud.”

Here’s how CNBC reporter Alex Sherman has the ownership structure breaking down, per “a person familiar with the matter. Oracle gets 12.5%, Walmart gets 7.5% and ByteDance gets the remaining 80%. The Trump administration is claiming that US investors will own 53% of TikTok because ByteDance (TikTok’s parent) is backed by venture capital investors that hold a 40% stake in the parent company.

The deal benefits everyone except U.S. consumers and people who have actual security concerns about TikTok’s algorithms and the ways they can be used to influence opinion in the U.S.

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance gets to maintain ownership of the U.S. entity, Oracle gets a huge new cloud customer to boost its ailing business, Walmart gets access to teens to sell stuff, and U.S. customer data is no safer (it’s just now in the hands of U.S. predators instead of foreign ones).

To be clear, data privacy and security is a major concern, but it’s not one that’s a concern when it comes to TikTok necessarily (and besides, the Chinese government has likely already acquired whatever data they want to on U.S. customers).

For many observers, the real concern with TikTok was that the company’s Chinese owners may be pressured by Beijing to manipulate its algorithm to promote or suppress content. Companies in China — including its internet giants — are required to follow the country’s intelligence and cloud security law mandating complete adherence with all government orders for data.

The Commerce Department in its statement said that “In light of recent positive developments, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, at the direction of President Trump, will delay the prohibition of identified transactions pursuant to Executive Order 13942, related to the TikTok mobile application that would have been effective on Sunday, September 20, 2020, until September 27, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.” So that’s a week reprieve.

So all this sound and fury … for what? The best investment return in all of these shenanigans is almost certainly Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz’ investment into Trump, who in addition to being a heavy donor to the Trump administration, also joined the presidential transition committee back in 2016. Thank god the U.S. saved TikTok from the crony capitalism of China. Let’s just hope they enjoy the crony capitalism of Washington DC.

*An earlier version of this article referred to AWS, Amazon and Microsoft. AWS and Amazon are the same company. I was typing fast. I’ve corrected the error.

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President Trump reportedly has approved the Oracle deal for TikTok’s US operations

President Donald Trump said has has given his stamp of approval “in concept” on the Oracle bid for the U.S. operations of the wildly popular social media app, TikTok, according to a report from Bloomberg.

According to the Bloomberg report Trump said, “I have given the deal my blessing,” as he left the White House for a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday.

“I approved the deal in concept,” Trump reportedly said.

The spinout of TikTok’s U.S. operations from its parent company Bytedance was something that Trump administration had demanded on the grounds that the company’s data handling policies and popularity in the U.S. posed a national security threat.

The President’s push to sever the applications ties to China also followed TikTok users’ alleged prank that turned what was supposed to be a triumphal rally for the President in Oklahoma City into a Presidential campaign embarrassment that cost the job of Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

That said, the U.S. has been looking to curtail the operations of several Chinese technology companies on the grounds that they pose security threats to the U.S. Indeed, the Presidential order that demanded TikTok’s spinout also called for the discontinuation of the U.S. operations of the messaging service WeChat, which is owned by Tencent — one of China’s largest technology companies. And the U.S. government has also put a target on the telecommunications and networking technology developer, Huawei.

With the TikTok deal set to be approved, a new company called TikTok Global will be created as part of the deal, according to statements from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earlier this week.

Bloomberg reported that Trump said the new company would be headquartered in Texas, would hire as many as 25,000 people and would contribute $5 billion toward U.S. education.

The bulk of TikTok’s U.S. operations are now in Los Angeles.

As the Trump Administration continues its push to disrupt the operations of Chinese tech companies in the U.S., strange bedfellows are uniting to voice opposition to the deal.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the head of Facebook’s Instagram subsidiary both came out with statements opposing the proposed transaction.

“This order violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, in a statement on Friday.

And the dragnet against Chinese influence through ownership of U.S. technology companies has reportedly widened to include many of the top U.S. gaming companies, which have been backed (or are wholly owned) by Tencent.

All of this could be exceptionally bad for U.S. technology businesses, as Instgram’s chief, Adam Mosseri pointed out in a series of Friday tweets.

“A US ban of TikTok would be meaningful step in the direction of a more fragmented nationalized internet, which would be bad for US tech companies which have benefited greatly from the ability to operate across borders,” Mosseri wrote.

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Oracle boots out Microsoft and wins bid for TikTok, reports say

Enterprise provider Oracle is said to have won the bidding war for the U.S. operations of TikTok, a chase in which Microsoft was booted out earlier today.

A TikTok spokesperson said the company “[doesn’t] comment on rumors or speculation.” Oracle did not immediately respond to TechCrunch for comment.

The Wall Street Journal writes that Oracle, a rare ally of the Trump administration in Silicon Valley, will be announced as TikTok’s “trusted tech partner” in the United States. Additionally, the Journal cites that a person familiar with the matter says the deal is “likely not to be structured as an outright sale.”

Oracle’s alleged purchase of TikTok’s U.S. operations would put an end to the unclear fate of the app within the country. The app’s reported buy comes days before September 20, the day that the Trump administration set for a ban on TikTok’s operations if the company doesn’t reach an agreement with a buyer. But there’s much confusion about which deadline TikTok will adhere to as Trump said last week “there will be no extension” of the September 15 deadline.

On Sunday, Microsoft said its bid for the U.S. operations of TikTok has been rejected by the app’s parent company, ByteDance.

“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” the statement read, stating that Microsoft would make “significant changes” around security, privacy, online safety, and disinformation.

“We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas,” the statement ended.

Issues and fears around TikTok’s security has been a flagship issue for the app. TikTok was banned in India, along with 58 other apps, due to “national security and defence” issues. India was TikTok’s biggest overseas market. In addition to Microsoft, a number of prominent tech companies have rumored to be in the market for TikTok’s U.S. operations such as Twitter, Google, and Walmart. But, as our Ron Miller pointed out, there’s some reason toward why a company like Oracle would crave an app like TikTok: marketshare.

Oracle has grown out of its database roots and made its way into marketing automation and cloud infrastructure. The company is not just a database maker and provider. It’s a massive operation, that monetizes off of data. Earlier in this pandemic, the enterprise data provider teamed up with Zoom. If Oracle was to bring the same kind of partnership to fruition with TikTok, it would be landed a huge client.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, told TechCrunch Oracle’s scoop of TikTok “will add plenty of load to their infrastructure service.”

“That’s what matters to them with viral loads preferred. If Microsoft gets TikTok it could boost their usage by between 2% and 5%, while for Oracle it could be as much 10%,” he said.

Oracle’s reported buy, thus, could be a boost that actually makes sense. But a dramatic one, nonetheless.

It’s uncertain how an Oracle deal will carry out or win approval from Beijing, which is clearly not happy with a forced sale. Two weeks ago, the Chinese government updated a set of trade rules that could block the export of artificial intelligence technologies such as those used to personalize TikTok’s user feeds. The revision is widely viewed as Beijing’s move to complicate TikTok’s sale and ByteDance said at the time it will “strictly abide by” the law.

Over the weekend, Reuters reported that Beijing would rather see TikTok close down in the U.S. rather than following Washington’s order to sell, which would “make both ByteDance and China appear weak in the face of pressure from Washington.”

Some form of transaction may still happen, but it might leave out TikTok’s proprietary algorithms developed by ByteDance’s Beijing office, a source told the South China Morning Post. That means TikTok’s U.S. operations or future owner would have to rewrite the very codes that have propelled the app to global domination.

After all, Oracle might end up as a minority stakeholder rather than an owner of TikTok, according to CNBC. An investment tie might just be strong enough to bind Oracle’s cloud services to TikTok, which has over 100 million users in the U.S. market alone.

Whether a sale happens or not, getting caught in geopolitical tensions is probably the last thing that Zhang Yiming, the ambitious Chinese founder of ByteDance, would want for his brainchild.

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The $10B JEDI contract is locked, loaded and still completely stuck

The other day I took a moment to count the number of stories we’ve done on TechCrunch on the DoD’s $10 billion, decade-long, winner-take-all, JEDI cloud contract. This marks the 30th time we’ve written about this deal over the last two years, and it comes after a busy week last week in JEDI cloud contract news.

That we’re still writing about this is fairly odd if you consider the winner was announced last October when the DoD chose Microsoft, but there is no end in sight to the on-going drama that is this procurement process.

Government contracts don’t typically catch our attention at TechCrunch, but this one felt different early on. There was the size and scope of the deal of course. There was the cute play on the “Star Wars” theme. There was Oracle acting like a batter complaining to the umpire before the first pitch was thrown. There was the fact that everyone thought Amazon would win until it didn’t.

There was a lot going on. In fact, there’s still a lot going on with this story.

Oracle doth protest too much

Let’s start with Oracle, which dispatched CEO Safra Catz to the White House in April 2018 even before the RFP had been written. She was setting the stage to complain that the deal was going to be set up to favor Amazon, something that Oracle alleged until the day Microsoft was picked the winner.

Catz had been on the Trump transition team and so had the ear of the president. While the president certainly interjected himself in this process, it’s not known how much influence that particular meeting might have had. Suffice to say that it was only the first volley in Oracle’s long war against the JEDI contract procurement process.

It would include official complaints with the Government Accountability Office and a federal lawsuit worth not coincidentally $10 billion. It would claim the contract favored Amazon. It would argue that the one-vendor approach wasn’t proper. It would suggest that because the DoD had some former Amazon employees helping write the RFP, that it somehow favored Amazon. The GAO and two court cases found otherwise, ruling against Oracle every single time.

It’s worth noting that the Court of Appeals ruling last week indicated that Oracle didn’t even meet some of the basic contractual requirements, all the while complaining about the process itself from the start.

Amazon continues to press protests

Nobody was more surprised that Amazon lost the deal than Amazon itself. It still believes to this day that it is technically superior to Microsoft and that it can offer the DoD the best approach. The DoD doesn’t agree. On Friday, it reaffirmed its choice of Microsoft. But that is not the end of this, not by a long shot.

Amazon has maintained since the decision was made last October that the decision-making process had been tainted by presidential interference in the process. They believe that because of the president’s personal dislike of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, he inserted himself in the process to prevent Bezos’ company from winning that deal.

In January, Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until this could all be sorted out. In February, a judge halted work on the project until Amazon’s complaints could be heard by the court. It is September and that order is still in place.

In a blog post on Friday, Amazon reiterated its case, which is based on presidential interference and what it believes is technical superiority. “In February, the Court of Federal Claims stopped performance on JEDI. The Court determined AWS’s protest had merit, and that Microsoft’s proposal likely failed to meet a key solicitation requirement and was likely deficient and ineligible for award. Our protest detailed how pervasive these errors were (impacting all six technical evaluation factors), and the Judge stopped the DoD from moving forward because the very first issue she reviewed demonstrated serious flaws,” Amazon wrote in the post.

Microsoft for the win?

Microsoft on the other hand went quietly about its business throughout this process. It announced Azure Stack, a kind of portable cloud that would work well as a field operations computer system. It beefed up its government security credentials.

Even though Microsoft didn’t agree with the one-vendor approach, indicating that the government would benefit more from the multivendor approach many of its customers were taking, it made clear if those were the rules, it was in it to win it — and win it did, much to the surprise of everyone, especially Amazon.

Yet here we are, almost a year later and in spite of the fact that the DoD found once again, after further review, that Microsoft is still the winner, the contract remains in limbo. Until that pending court case is resolved, we will continue to watch and wait and wonder if this will ever be truly over, and the JEDI cloud contract will actually be implemented.

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DoD reaffirms Microsoft has won JEDI cloud contract, but Amazon legal complaints still pending

We have seen a lot of action this week as the DoD tries to finally determine the final winner of the $10 billion, decade-long DoD JEDI cloud contract. Today, the DoD released a statement that after reviewing the proposals from finalists Microsoft and Amazon again, it reiterated that Microsoft was the winner of the contract.

“The Department has completed its comprehensive re-evaluation of the JEDI Cloud proposals and determined that Microsoft’s proposal continues to represent the best value to the Government. The JEDI Cloud contract is a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that will make a full range of cloud computing services available to the DoD,” the DoD said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of yesterday’s Court of Appeals decision denying Oracle’s argument that the procurement process was flawed and that there was a conflict of interest because a former Amazon employee helped write the requirements for the RFP.

While the DoD has determined that it believes that Microsoft should still get the contract, after selecting them last October, that doesn’t mean this is the end of the line for this long-running saga. In fact, a federal judge halted work on the project in February pending a hearing on an ongoing protest from Amazon, which believes it should have won based on merit, and the fact it believes the president interfered with the procurement process to prevent Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, from getting the lucrative contract.

The DoD confirmed that the project could not begin until the legal wrangling was settled. “While contract performance will not begin immediately due to the Preliminary Injunction Order issued by the Court of Federal Claims on February 13, 2020, DoD is eager to begin delivering this capability to our men and women in uniform,” the DoD reported in a statement.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company was ready to get to work on the project as soon as it got the OK to proceed. “We appreciate that after careful review, the DoD confirmed that we offered the right technology and the best value. We’re ready to get to work and make sure that those who serve our country have access to this much needed technology,” a Microsoft spokesperson told TechCrunch .

Meanwhile, in a blog post published late this afternoon, Amazon made it clear that it was unhappy with today’s outcome and will continue to pursue legal remedy for what they believe to be presidential interference that has threatened the integrity of the procurement process. Here’s how they concluded the blog post:

We strongly disagree with the DoD’s flawed evaluation and believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence. The question we continue to ask ourselves is whether the President of the United States should be allowed to use the budget of the Department of Defense to pursue his own personal and political ends? Throughout our protest, we’ve been clear that we won’t allow blatant political interference, or inferior technology, to become an acceptable standard. Although these are not easy decisions to make, and we do not take them lightly, we will not back down in the face of targeted political cronyism or illusory corrective actions, and we will continue pursuing a fair, objective, and impartial review.

While today’s statement from DoD appears to take us one step closer to the end of the road for this long-running drama, it won’t be over until the court rules on Amazon’s arguments. It’s clear from today’s blog post that Amazon has no intention of stepping down.

Note: We have  updated this story with content from an Amazon blog post responding to this news.

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Walmart-exclusive TrillerTok will run on Azure, or Oracle, or something

If you can’t keep up with the latest rumor mill on TikTok’s impending doom acquisition, my suggestion is simple: don’t. Or instead, enjoy it for what it is: one of the most absurd bakeoff deals in investment banking history.

Walmart and its always low prices are in the fray. Oracle is looking to find synergies to make enterprise resource planning software more enticing to Gen Z workers. Triller — who the hell are they again? — is supposedly teaming up with an asset management firm (and a planet near the Hoth system) called Centricus according to Bloomberg (to which TikTok responded nah). Twitter is in — maybe? — with key corporate strategic advice from Beyoncé on the social network’s debt underwriting strategy.

SoftBank is apparently looking, and also just happened to announce yesterday its intention to sell off $14 billion of its core Japanese mobile services business to net cash quickly. (The upshot is that at least TikTok lost most of its value before SoftBank’s investment!)

Everything here is absurd. TikTok is absurd. The videos of people doing what they are doing on TikTok are absurd. TikTok’s growth is absurd. A president setting a deadline on the sale of a company is absurd. This process is absurd. Selling a company as large as TikTok in 45 days is absurd. Walmart is absurd (and also a mirage, since they are still banned from New York City lest someone gets discounted soap in a pandemic).

I warned a few weeks ago to “beware bankers” peddling TikTok rumors. And that’s still the right answer, in the sense that of course we are going to get to the furthest reaches of the M&A universe as bankers try to salvage TikTok’s final sale price (“We’re approaching the Centricus system, sir!”). But that approach is so much more boring than just assuming that every rumor is true and trying to imagine Wall Street advisors trundling through this morass of bids.

My advice here is simple: let’s all take our analyst hats off for a week and put on our clown costumes, since — and it’s key you don’t work at TikTok for this or have money at stake in the company — this story is actually enjoyable.

COVID-19 is serious, the U.S. presidential election is weeks away, social justice in our cities is critically important. Just in the past few hours, T’Challa passed away, Hurricane Laura ripped up the Gulf Coast, and the longest continuously-serving Japanese prime minister of the post-war era (yes, I know, that’s a lot of qualifiers) just resigned due to health issues. It can get weighty on the front pages of the newspapers these days.

So it’s just nice to know that you can flip to the business pages and get some farce.

Maybe this whole story will eventually turn into the next great business book à la Barbarians at the Gate. But at least the barbarians then knew how to destroy a company with the proper levels of debt leverage. Here, you’ve got the pre-smoldered detritus of a business being bid on by the company that brought us The Greeter.

Whatever this saga brings next (hint: Microsoft buying the company), I’ll just say this: the warmth and cheeriness that TikTok provided millions of teenagers though short videos of awakward dance routines is the same mirth that it provides acerbic financial analysts with a caustic eye on the markets. In what has been a miserable year for all of us, for that small twinkle of amusement, I’m thankful.

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