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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

Nov 23, 2020 - Technology

Biden's openings for tech progress

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images 

Item No. 1 on President-elect Joe Biden's day-one tech agenda, controlling the flood of misinformation online, offers no fast fixes — but other tech issues facing the new administration hold out opportunities for quick action and concrete progress.

What to watch: Closing the digital divide will be a high priority, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely.

Biden's Day 1 challenges: Systemic racism

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor (PA Images)/Getty Images

Advocates are pushing President-elect Biden to tackle systemic racism with a Day 1 agenda that includes ending the detention of migrant children and expanding DACA, announcing a Justice Department investigation of rogue police departments and returning some public lands to Indigenous tribes.

Why it matters: Biden has said the fight against systemic racism will be one of the top goals of his presidency — but the expectations may be so high that he won't be able to meet them.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Most Americans are still vulnerable to the coronavirus

Adapted from Bajema, et al., 2020, "Estimated SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence in the US as of September 2020"; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As of September, the vast majority of Americans did not have coronavirus antibodies, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: As the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout most of the country, most people remain vulnerable to it.

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