Alibaba's Jack Ma interested in buying Yahoo

Relations between Yahoo and Alibaba had sunk to a low recently over an online payment unit

Jack Ma, chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group, said on Friday at an event at Stanford University that he was interested in acquiring Yahoo, according to reports, making this the first public overture by the Chinese company which is about 40 percent owned by Yahoo.

John W. Spelich, vice president for international corporate affairs at the Chinese Internet giant, confirmed that Ma had said at Stanford that he was interested in acquiring Yahoo. "In response to a media question as to whether he was interested in acquiring all of Yahoo, he said he was (on behalf of Alibaba Group)," Spelich said on Monday by email.

Ma did not elaborate further, he added.

Yahoo's CEO Carol Bartz was fired from her job on Sept. 6, and replaced on an interim basis by the company's chief financial officer, Tim Morse. The company's board said it was commencing a search for a permanent CEO and expected to engage the services of a nationally recognized executive search firm to help it identify candidates for the position as expeditiously as possible.

One of the issues for which Bartz reportedly drew flak, apart from her inability to turnaround the company, was her handling of an already difficult relationship with Alibaba Group which has managed Yahoo's brand and services in China since 2005.

Yahoo said it was caught by surprise when it found out that Alibaba Group had spun off its Alipay online payment unit to a Chinese company controlled by Ma.

Alibaba Group officials countered saying Bartz and other officials were fully aware of Alibaba Group's plan to divest itself of Alipay in order to meet new Chinese regulations.

 An agreement was eventually reached in late July over what Yahoo and other investors considered fair compensation for the loss of value from the Alipay divestiture.

Ma is also reported to have said previously that he would like to acquire Yahoo's stake in Alibaba Group, a level of ownership which he can now achieve by acquiring Yahoo.

Privacy groups are however worried about the implication to Yahoo users if the company comes under Chinese control, according to Financial Times newspaper.

Alibaba Group runs e-commerce site Alibaba.com that was listed in 2007 on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Group company Taobao, China's largest online retailer, was split in June into three separate companies to better address its target markets.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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Tags business issuesYahooAlibaba GroupinvestmentsinternetMergers and acquisitionsInternet service providers

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John Ribeiro

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