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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.

In photos: Life slowly returning to normal as restrictions lift across U.S.

Fireworks near the Statue of Liberty in New York City marking the end of New York State's pandemic restrictions in New York State and honoring frontline workers. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

New Yorkers and Californians celebrated most COVID-19 restrictions lifting on Tuesday, as the two states became the latest to move toward fully reopening their economies.

The big picture: The pandemic has now claimed over 600,000 lives in the U.S., but vaccines have helped drive down the seven-day average to roughly 14,000 new cases and fewer than 400 deaths per day, helping most states to ease restrictions.

China's government issues warning after sending 28 planes over Taiwan

A J-11B fighter aircraft from China's air force flying over the Dafangshen airport in Changchun, China. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

China's government issued a warning to "foreign forces" after Taiwan reported a record 28 Chinese military planes flew over the self-governed island's airspace Tuesday, per Reuters.

Why it matters: The warning and deployment of aircraft including fighter jets and bombers comes after G7 leaders issued a statement Sunday urging the Chinese government to respect human rights and calling on peace and "stability across the Taiwan Strait."

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