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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oracle has leapfrogged Microsoft as the most likely buyer of TikTok's U.S. operations, according to multiple sources familiar with the process. But the situation remains very fluid, including the possibility of no deal at all.

[Update: Several hours after this story was published, Microsoft announced via blog post that its takeover offer has been rejected.]

Key questions: What exactly is for sale, and could President Trump accept a deal in which some of TikTok's core technology remains with Chinese parent company ByteDance?

Between the lines: Original deal talks involved all of TikTok's operations, including its underlying algorithm, in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  • New Chinese tech export rules have complicated matters, with the South China Morning Post reporting on Sunday that ByteDance "will not sell or transfer the algorithm." Axios has not been able to confirm that development.
  • One source says that ByteDance has now limited talks to TikTok's U.S. assets, saying the original quartet was an artifact of how ByteDance structured the business, not based on strategy or government pressures.

Oracle is more likely than Microsoft to accept a deal in which it serves more as a cloud services provider than as a traditional parent company.

  • Oracle also is working with certain existing ByteDance shareholders, which could make ByteDance and Beijing feel more confident that they are maintaining a level of control.
  • It also has some very close ties to President Trump, who would need to sign off on any deal. Oracle executive chairman Larry Ellison earlier this year held a fundraiser for Trump, and Oracle CEO Safra Catz served on Trump's 2016 transition team.
  • As a caveat, Microsoft still has much deeper pockets and more consumer tech expertise than does Oracle. If ByteDance opts for a clean break, Microsoft remains its best option.

Timing: President Trump originally said that a deal must be reached by Sept. 15, but his executive order gave ByteDance until Sept. 20. On Friday, he said the deadline will not be extended.

  • TikTok continues to litigate its objection to Trump's executive order and likely would ask for an emergency injunction were the President to institute a ban.

Go deeper: Inside TikTok's killer algorithm

Go deeper

TikTok mega-star Josh Richards pivots to VC investing

Photo: RNewsfoto/Triller

Josh Richards is joining Remus Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm, as a Venture Partner, Axios has learned.

The backdrop: Richards, 18, has more than 22 million followers on TikTok and is an angel investor and chief strategy officer at Triller. Remus invests in startups that cater to Gen-Z, like boutique fitness app ClassPass.

Updated 36 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

The Robinhood M&A rumor mill churns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Robinhood's valuation is now just over $11 billion, a fraction of where it traded in August and below that of its last private round of funding. Cue the M&A mongers.

Why it matters: It's not just Robinhood—falling values of growth-oriented tech stocks have raised speculation that formerly high-flying fintechs could be snapped up by more well-capitalized buyers.

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