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Potential TikTok Buyer Wants To Ditch The App's Secret Sauce Algorithm (1)


Potential TikTok Buyer Wants To Ditch The App’s “Secret Sauce” Algorithm

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is assembling a team of investors to potentially purchase TikTok within six months. However, his plans to rebuild the app from scratch without its original algorithm are drawing skepticism from experts and insiders.

Mnuchin’s proposed timeline stems from a bipartisan House bill passed on March 13 that would ban TikTok in the United States unless the app is sold to an American buyer within 180 days. Lawmakers have raised concerns about the Chinese government’s potential influence over the platform and access to user data.

TikTok boasts over 170 million active users in the U.S. alone and is valued at an estimated $100 billion, presenting a daunting acquisition target even for buyers like Mnuchin. In an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on March 14, he disclosed he was building a group of investors to buy the app.

However, according to The Washington Post’s reporting, Mnuchin intends to bypass China’s restrictions on tech exports by rebuilding the app using U.S. technology without TikTok’s underlying algorithm. He confirmed this in the Squawk Box interview.

“The technology, I won’t go into all the details, but the app needs to be rebuilt in the U.S., it needs to be U.S. technology,” Mnuchin told CNBC, signaling a willingness to purchase TikTok without the core component driving its viral success and user engagement.

This proposition has drawn skepticism from industry experts. Matt Perault, a professor at the University of North Carolina and former Facebook Policy Director, noted to The Washington Post that major tech companies have struggled to replicate TikTok’s algorithm despite substantial investment.

“All the biggest companies have thrown a lot of money and engineering talent at that issue and have struggled to do it,” Perault said. “If Steve Mnuchin thinks he can do that and succeed where a lot of successful companies have struggled, good luck.”

Sources familiar with Mnuchin’s pitch suggest he believes rebuilding the app without the original code could reduce acquisition costs. However, they question whether replicating TikTok’s functionality is feasible, with one source telling the Post, “This is like rebuilding Facebook – that’s the task here. It can’t be done in 180 days – or even years.”

While Mnuchin asserted to CNBC that “a lot can be done in six months,” TikTok’s parent company ByteDance spent years developing and refining the algorithm that propelled the app’s meteoric rise since its international launch in 2017.

Potential investors are likely evaluating whether Mnuchin’s ambitions to quickly recreate TikTok’s cornerstone technology from scratch are realistic. The algorithm’s ability to accurately predict user interests and deliver an infinitely scrollable feed of engaging videos is widely considered the platform’s most prized asset.

As the 180-day deadline looms, Mnuchin faces doubts over his capacity to deliver a viable TikTok alternative shorn of the original app’s crowning technological achievement. Neither he nor TikTok have publicly addressed the concerns raised over his proposed rebuild.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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