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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration's existential threat to TikTok is again going down to the wire, as today is the deadline for when its Chinese parent company ByteDance must unwind a 2018 merger that helped create the app.

The big picture: There's no precedent for what might be coming after the stroke of midnight, and so far Treasury is turtling.

  • The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) has previously required that past mergers be unwound (e.g., Grindr), but never before has such an order not been met in time.
  • TikTok would, at least theoretically, be in violation of the law if it continues to operate, unless CFIUS grants it a 30-day extension (which it hasn't) or a judge grants it an emergency injunction (which TikTok sued for on Tuesday).
  • The original CFIUS ruling says that the U.S. Justice Department "is authorized to take any steps necessary."

"Wait a minute," says rhetorical reader. "I thought they had a deal with Oracle and Walmart that President Trump approved?"

  • Yes, but Trump only approved it in concept. The devil was in the details, particularly as it relates to data privacy and security, and those details remain bedeviled.

What TikTok is saying: "In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement — but have received no substantive feedback."

What Treasury is saying: Nothing. Not only to reporters like me, but sources suggest that it also went dark on TikTok/ByteDance as the election neared.

The bottom line: TikTok is two-for-two in requesting court injunctions, but both of those cases related to sloppily-written executive orders. Overcoming CFIUS, which is designed to protect national security, could be a higher bar. In the meantime, over 1,500 U.S. workers and an estimated 100 million U.S. users hang in the balance.

Go deeper

Trump bans transactions with eight Chinese software apps

Trump speaking at a rally in Dalton, Georgia, on Jan. 4. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that prohibits transactions with eight Chinese software applications, claiming they pose a national security threat given their ability to access private information about their users.

Why it matters: The order comes two weeks before Trump leaves office, and it remains unclear whether President-elect Biden will continue enforcing Trump’s bans on Chinese companies.

Ina Fried, author of Login
31 mins ago - Technology

Epic's long game against Apple

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Epic's Apple lawsuit is costing the company dearly, but the game developer has its eye on a valuable long-term goal: prying tomorrow's virtual worlds loose from the grip of app store proprietors like Apple.

Between the lines: Epic isn't spending a fortune in legal fees and foregoing a ton of revenue just to shave some costs off in-app purchases on today's phones. Rather, it's planning for a future of creating virtual universes via augmented and virtual reality — without having to send a big chunk of their economies to Apple or Google.

Updated 36 mins ago - Health

The race to avoid a possible "monster" COVID variant

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Slow global COVID-19 vaccination rates are raising concerns that worse variants of the coronavirus could be percolating, ready to rip into the world before herd immunity can diminish their impact.

Why it matters: The U.S. aims to at least partially vaccinate 70% of adults by July 4, a move expected to accelerate the current drop of new infections here. But variants are the wild card, and in a global pandemic where only about 8% of all people have received one dose, the virus will continue mutating unabated.