The Chinese billionaire behind teen phenomenon TikTok is a 36-year-old tech guru whose eye for youth trends and pioneering use of AI has blasted the app to global success — while working hand-in-glove with censors to control content within China. Zhang Yiming’s Beijing-based startup ByteDance owns TikTok, whose kaleidoscopic feeds of 15 to 60-second clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life.
Since launching in 2017, TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, according to US-based research agency Sensor Tower. It has huge followings in India, the US, Indonesia and elsewhere.
But its rise has raised security fears and last month two senior US senators called for a government review of the app, saying it could leave users vulnerable to spying by Beijing.
ByteDance, which Zhang founded in 2012, prides itself on using artificial intelligence to personalise newsfeeds according to users’ interests.
The company has had “huge and immediate success” because it pays close attention to its young users, said Bo Ji, assistant dean for the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business.
“The new generation… want to share their real feelings, whether good or bad. They are more direct and expressive,” he said.
TikTok is ByteDance’s most popular overseas app, while its other products in China and abroad include news aggregators and productivity tools.
Together they have taken Zhang — a programmer before he became a businessman — to the highest echelons of China’s billionaire club.
In 2019, he was listed in the top 20 of the Hurun China Rich List with $13.5 billion in wealth, surpassing more established tech tycoons, such as the founder of search giant Baidu.
Zhang’s fortunes were given a huge boost with ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of lip-syncing video app Musical.ly — later merged with TikTok — in a deal reportedly worth as much as $1 billion.
“Mr Zhang is unusual Chinese entrepreneur,” said Bo.
“He built something for the world; he understands the young people and their psychology.”
Liu Xingliang, dean of the DCCI research centre, told AFP that Zhang represents a new wave of entrepreneurs and a different breed to China’s most famous tycoon, Alibaba’s Jack Ma.
He is “more like a young Pony Ma,” Liu said, comparing Zhang to the 48-year-old co-founder of Chinese internet giant Tencent.
This is because Zhang “used to be a programmer, paid more attention to products, and knew technology well”, he said.
ByteDance also operates a Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin. It is the top short video app in China, with over 400 million monthly active users, according to iResearch.
Douyin, launched in 2016, attracted users by bringing on board top celebrities like Chinese actor and singer Kris Wu.
But ByteDance’s first flagship product was the immensely popular Chinese news aggregation app Jinri Toutiao, or “today’s headlines”.
“(Toutiao) has changed Chinese reading habits… they will know what you like to watch, and you will have the things you like to see recommended to you,’ said Liu.
Aside from TikTok, ByteDance also runs TopBuzz in the US, an English-language news aggregation app that the company was reportedly trying to sell in September.
In 2016 it became a controlling stakeholder of BaBe, an Indonesian news app with more than 30 million downloads since its launch in October 2013.
Productivity app and Slack-competitor Lark is ByteDance’s latest product, which features cloud storage, chat and calendar functions.
And according to recent reports, the company is also planning to launch its own music streaming service to compete with subscription models like Spotify and Apple.
In mainland China ByteDance employs thousands of censors to scrub out inappropriate content in its domestic platforms — at a significant cost to the company.
It reportedly hired 2,000 censors in January 2018 after Beijing accused its news aggregation app of “spreading pornographic and vulgar information”.
It then promised to increase its internal censorship staff to 10,000 after being temporarily banned by the government in a widening content crackdown.
Censorship is common in China where the internet is tightly controlled.
But going global has brought its own censorship challenges for TikTok, which is blocked in Bangladesh and was briefly banned by an Indian court over claims it was promoting pornography among children.
It was also hit with an enormous fine in the US for illegally collecting information from children.
One TikTok video that went viral this week contained criticism — hidden within a clip that appeared to offer tips on eyelash curling — of China’s mass detention of Muslims in its Xinjiang region.
A Twitter account apparently belonging to the same teenager who posted the video said she had been suspended “for trying to spread awareness” — a claim disputed by the app. The video was readily available on TikTok Wednesday.
TikTok has sought to distance itself from China, saying in October that it is “not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government.”
But US senators have warned in a letter that TikTok’s owner ByteDance could be forced to share user information with Chinese intelligence, and could also be used to influence upcoming US elections.
ByteDance lays off employees in India, months after TikTok’s ban in the country
- The company said that it was scaling down its employee size in India, as there has been no intimation from the government regarding a possible solution to the ban.
TikTokwas banned in late June by the Indian government in the middle of rising tensions at the India-China border.
- Even with all the ups and downs in its businesses across the globe,
Bytedancehas reportedly raked in $37 billion in revenue in 2020, including $7 billion in profit.
Chinese giant ByteDance has fired hundreds of employees in India, as the ban on Chinese apps including the company’s popular app TikTok remains banned in the country.
In an email to its employees on Wednesday morning, the company said that it was scaling down its employee size in India, as there has been no intimation from the government regarding a possible solution to the ban.
“We initially hoped that this situation would be short-lived, and that we would be able to resolve this quickly. Seven months later, we find that has not been the case. Many of you have patiently waited to hear how this would play out, which has been very stressful. Thank you for your continued belief and trust in us,” wrote TikTok CEO Vanessa Pappas and VP of Global Business Blake Chandlee in an email to India employees today, as reported by
TikTok was banned in late June by the Indian government, as were 58 other Chinese apps in the middle of rising tensions at the India-China border. Soon after, over hundred other Chinese apps were banned in the country over privacy and data concerns.
“We have worked steadfastly to comply with the Government of India order issued on June 29, 2020. We continually strive to make our apps comply with local laws and regulations and do our best to address any concerns they have. It is therefore disappointing that in the ensuing seven months, despite our efforts we have not been given a clear direction on how and when our apps could be reinstated. It is deeply regretful that after supporting our 2000+ employees in India for more than half a year, we have no choice but to scale back the size of our workforce. We look forward to receiving the opportunity to relaunch TikTok and support the hundreds of millions of users, artists, story-tellers, educators and performers in India,” said a TikTok spokesperson.
Not just in India, TikTok saw complications in its business in India as former US President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app unless the company sold off its business to an American company – which it was eventually to Walmart and Oracle.
However, even with all the ups and downs in its businesses across the globe, Bytedance has
reportedly raked in $37 billion in revenue in 2020, including $7 billion in profit.
Old vehicle owners may have to pay up to ₹3,800 per year as ‘Green tax’
CAG is hiring more than 10,000 accountants and auditors around the country
YouTube says its TikTok competitor is getting 3.5 billion views a day in India test run
Susan Wojcicki, chief executive officer of YouTube.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
YouTube’s short-form video feature Shorts, which aims to compete with TikTok, is achieving 3.5 billion views per day during its early test run in India, the company said Tuesday.
YouTube does not reveal detailed statistics for the service overall, but has said that 2 billion logged-in users visit every month, and that people watch a billion hours of video on the service every day.
The company unveiled an early beta of Shorts in India in September. Shorts will be part of the YouTube app and looks a lot like TikTok, with an option to add music, change the speed of the video and more. But video length is capped at just 15 seconds. TikTok videos can be up to a minute long.
Wojcicki also said the following in her letter:
- Regulation will be a significant focus in 2021. She noted that there’s been a lot of talk about reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies from liability for the content that their users post, but also noted that Democrats and Republicans in Congress differ on what should be done.
- The fastest-growing “screen” for YouTube viewership is the TV.
- E-commerce is a growing focus for YouTube as well, and the company is beta-testing a program with creators in the beauty and electronics spaces to make it easier for consumers to buy the products they see in videos.
- Over the last three years, the company has paid more than $30 billion to creators, artists, and media companies.
- This year, the company will start asking creators in the U.S. on a voluntary basis to provide it with their gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. The goal is to ensure fair treatment for creators of different backgrounds when it comes to search results and monetization opportunities.
TikTok ‘saves woman’s life’ after strange message found outside home
A woman claims her TikTok followers “saved her life” after she found a message written in snow outside her home.
Jade Jules, 27, from Newfoundland in Canada, took to the social media app on January 12 to ask viewers what the symbols meant after noticing the writing while taking out her garbage.
“This on the top of my garbage bucket,” she says in the video.
“What the f*** does that mean?”
The message written in snow reads: “1F”.
People on TikTok respond with disturbing theory
While Ms Jules couldn’t figure it out a number of her TikTok followers floated a theory.
“You’re being watched,” one woman wrote.
Viewers believed the “1F” might be a way of indicating “one female” lived in Ms Jules’s abode and several demanded she call the police.
“They are telling people who are supposed to rob you or whatever that you live alone,” another woman wrote.
Others reacted in horror.
“I’m a man and this scared me,” one man wrote.
‘I’m thankful’: Woman moves in with mum
While it’s not exactly clear if she has been targeted by criminals, Ms Jules said in a separate TikTok video police wiped the message off her bin and told her to “stay safe”.
She told the Metro she’s since moved in with her mum.
“I thought people on TikTok would know and help me, which they did. I’m very thankful for everyone who helped me,” she told the paper.
“My followers definitely saved my life… I had zero clue on what it meant.”
Ms Jules has now installed surveillance equipment at her how and is planning to move back into it with her mum.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.