Microsoft is seeking to expand its negotiations over the viral video app TikTok to include its European and Indian operations, according to reports, setting itself up for a clash with the app's Chinese owners.
The American software giant appears to be at odds with TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, over whether the American software giant should be allowed to buy the Chinese-owned app’s operations in Europe and India as well as the United States.
Microsoft is now pushing to acquire all of TikTok’s global holdings, reports said, potentially including in the UK. One source, however, flatly denied the claims.
The two companies have just 39 days left to achieve a deal before the US government moves to ban TikTok entirely from the country – a punishing timescale in which to transfer a company worth up to $50bn (£38bn) between the opposing sides of a new cold war.
One insider told the Financial Times, which first reported on Microsoft's attempt to widen talks, that the negotiations resembled "multi-dimensional chess" due to the involvement of both the US and Chinese government as well as ByteDance's minority shareholders.
Both ByteDance and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are likely to resist selling TikTok's non-US operations, which are a major asset to China's international "soft power" as well as a symbol of its technological prowess.
So far, Microsoft has only publicly named the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as part of the negotiations.
Microsoft and ByteDance declined to comment.
Selling TikTok's US operations to an American company would soothe President Trump, who has accused the app of being a Trojan horse for Chinese state spying, but also impose the daunting task of separating TikTok in the US from TiKTok elsewhere.
That would only compound the complexity of splitting TikTok from its Chinese cousin, Douyin, which is identical in its core features and shares many technologies.
One area where Microsoft may find less resistance is India, which has already banned TikTok. The country had previously been TikTok's biggest market, and selling it off might be the only way for ByteDance to salvage some of its value.
A source close to ByteDance's Indian arm told the Financial Times that there was a "deal in the works" with Microsoft, and that Indian buyers could step in if that were to fail.
Any potential deal might have to involve ByteDance licencing its technology to TikTok's new owner, including its renowned but enigmatic content selection algorithms.