Steve Ballmer: Microsoft is well-equipped to deal with regulatory issues if it buys TikTok – CNBC

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CNBC on Monday the company’s pursuit of TikTok is “exciting” and that it’s well-equipped to deal with any regulatory issues that would come with it.

Microsoft confirmed in a blog post Sunday it has held talks with the social media app’s China-based parent company ByteDance to buy its business in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. President Donald Trump has threatened to ban the app over national security concerns, and lawmakers have moved to restrict it from government-issued devices. On Friday, Trump said he opposed the potential deal, but Microsoft said in its post that CEO Satya Nadella spoke with Trump and intends to finish talks with ByteDance by Sept. 15.

“Obviously it depends on the price,” Ballmer said in a “Squawk Box” interview. “Price is important as well as whatever restrictions come with it from a government perspective, but I think it’s an exciting avenue for Microsoft to really increase its consumer base.”

Ballmer is still Microsoft’s largest shareholder, and shares were up more than 4% in early trading Monday.

While Microsoft has made its mark with enterprise products in recent years, Ballmer recalled that its roots are as a consumer-facing business. 

“There [are] successes and failures in the consumer business, and I think it’s important to remember you’ve got to keep trying new things in order to build new businesses,” he said.

Still, acquiring TikTok would likely rekindle regulatory scrutiny of Microsoft. Following its landmark antitrust case at the turn of the century, Microsoft has largely avoided the intense scrutiny placed on consumer-facing tech companies Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in recent years. Those four companies’ CEOs testified at a hearing in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust last week, and Microsoft was notably absent. Microsoft President Brad Smith reportedly talked to the subcommittee about its experience with antitrust regulators and concerns with Apple’s App Store, according to The Information.

Though Slack recently filed an a competition complaint against Microsoft in the European Union, Microsoft has seemed to mostly fly under the radar in the United States.

Based on his experience navigating Microsoft’s U.S. antitrust case, Ballmer said his former company would be prepared for any scrutiny regarding TikTok.

“Even on the enterprise business, there’s always issues of national sovereignty — where do you store data and the like?” he said. “This would be a continuation of a theme, and I think Microsoft’s got a real sophistication about that borne of a history and a track record of having to work with governments and understanding that government is part of the fabric of everything.”

Ballmer said it would be hard to argue that Microsoft’s relationship with China is too close.

“If Microsoft was tight and cozy with the Chinese government, Microsoft’s business would be bigger in China,” he said. “If the Chinese market was as piracy-free as the rest of the world, if the Chinese market was as accepting of Microsoft’s enterprise services as the rest of the world, Microsoft would be really, I think, quite a bit bigger.”

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