ByteDance Ltd.
Native name
字节跳动有限公司
Company typePrivate
IndustryInternet
Founded13 March 2012; 12 years ago (2012-03-13)
Founders
Headquarters
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
  • Zhang Yiming (Founder & Chairman)
  • Liang Rubo (Founder & CEO)
  • Erich Andersen (global GC)[2]
  • Kelly Zhang (CEO of ByteDance China)[3]
  • Lidong Zhang (Chairman of ByteDance China)[3]
  • Shou Zi Chew (CEO of TikTok)
Products
RevenueIncrease US$120 billion (2023)[4]
Increase US$2 billion (2022)[5]
Number of employees
c. 150,000 (2023)[6]
Subsidiaries
ASNs396986, 138699 Edit this at Wikidata
Websitebytedance.com Edit this at Wikidata
Zijie Tiaodong
Chinese字节跳动

ByteDance Ltd. is a Chinese internet technology company headquartered in Haidian, Beijing and incorporated in the Cayman Islands.[7]

Founded by Zhang Yiming, Liang Rubo and a team of others in 2012, ByteDance developed the video-sharing apps TikTok and Douyin. The company is also the developer of the news platform Toutiao.

ByteDance has attracted legislative and media attention in several countries over security, surveillance, and censorship concerns.[8][9][10]

History

In 2009, software engineer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming collaborated with his friend Liang Rubo to co-found 99fang.com, a real estate search engine.[11] In early 2012, the pair rented an apartment in Zhongguancun and, along with several other 99fang employees, began developing an app that would use big data algorithms to classify news according to users' preferences, which would later become Toutiao.[12] That March, Yiming and Liang founded ByteDance.[13]

Launch of first apps

In March 2012, ByteDance launched its first app, called Neihan Duanzi (内涵段子, lit. "profound gags"). This allowed users to circulate jokes, memes, and humorous videos. Before being forced by the Chinese government to shut down in 2018, Neihan Duanzi had over 200 million users.[14]

In August 2012, ByteDance launched the first version of news and content platform Toutiao (头条, lit. "headlines"), which would become their core product.[15]

In January 2013, in an attempt for commercialism and nationalism, a four-part plan for the future was presented to executives. Part four of the plan was to build an English version of Toutiao to gain users in English-speaking countries. At the time, there was an app race for video views and the attention of phone users.[16]

Expansion

In March 2016, ByteDance established its research arm, called the ByteDance AI Lab. It is headed by Wei-Ying Ma, the former assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia.[17][18]

From late 2016 until 2017, ByteDance made a number of acquisitions and new product launches. In December 2016, it invested in the Indonesian news recommendation platform BABE.[19] Two months later, in February 2017, ByteDance acquired Flipagram, which was later rebranded to Vigo Video (Hypstar) in July 2017.[20] Vigo Video later shut down permanently on October 31, 2020. In November 2017, ByteDance acquired musical.ly for an estimated US$1 billion. At the time of acquisition, TikTok was only available in India and musical.ly was available globally. In order for TikTok to go global, ByteDance merged musical.ly with TikTok on August 2, 2018, keeping the name TikTok. Another notable acquisition includes News Republic from Cheetah Mobile in November 2017.[21]

In December 2018, ByteDance sued Chinese technology news site Huxiu for defamation after Huxiu reported that ByteDance's Indian-language news app Helo was propagating fake news.[22]

In March 2021, the Financial Times reported that ByteDance was part of a group of Chinese companies that aimed to deploy technology to circumvent Apple's privacy policies.[23][24]

In April 2021, ByteDance announced that it had created a new division called BytePlus to distribute the software framework underlying TikTok, so that others may launch similar apps.[25]

In August 2021, ByteDance acquired Pico, an Oculus-like virtual reality startup.[26]

In June 2022, the Financial Times reported on a culture clash at ByteDance's London office that has led to a staff exodus.[27]

In March 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported that former employees allege that the company engages in a practice called "horse racing," in which several teams are assigned to build the same product.[28] When one version is deemed to perform better, the team designing the better version is provided with more support.[28]

In April 2023, ByteDance filed a trademark for a book publisher called 8th Note Press.[29]

In December 2023, The Verge reported that ByteDance used OpenAI's API for its own generative AI projects. Afterwards, OpenAI announced that while usage by ByteDance was minimal, its account has been suspended pending further investigation whether any terms of service were violated. ByteDance stated that it had been licensed for using the API outside the Chinese market, its own chatbot is available only within China, and ChatGPT-generated data have been deleted from ByteDance's training data since the middle of 2023. Scraping existing AI models is a common shortcut for smaller companies but considered unusual for the likes of ByteDance.[30]

Corporate affairs

Funding and ownership

ByteDance is backed financially by Jeff Yass' Susquehanna International Group, Primavera Capital Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, SoftBank Group, Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic, and Hillhouse Capital Group.[31][32][33] As of March 2021, it was estimated to be valued at $250 billion in private trades.[34][needs update]

ByteDance's owners include investors outside of China (60%), its founders and Chinese investors (20%), and employees (20%).[35] In 2021, the state-owned China Internet Investment Fund purchased a 1% stake in ByteDance's main Chinese subsidiary, Beijing ByteDance Technology (formerly Beijing Douyin Information Service), as a golden share investment[36][37][38] and seated Wu Shugang, a government official with a background in government propaganda, as one of the subsidiary's board members.[39][40][41]

In 2023, G42 purchased a stake in ByteDance.[42]

Management

Zhang Yiming was ByteDance's chairman and CEO from its founding in 2012 until 2021, when co-founder Liang Rubo took over as CEO.[43]

On 19 May 2020, ByteDance and Disney released an announcement that Kevin Mayer, head of Disney's streaming business, would join ByteDance. From June 2020 to his resignation 26 August 2020, Mayer served as the CEO of TikTok and the COO of ByteDance, reporting directly to the company CEO Zhang Yiming.[44][45] In 2021, Shou Zi Chew, former CFO of Xiaomi, took over as TikTok CEO.[46]

In 2014, ByteDance established an internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee.[47] The company's vice president, Zhang Fuping, serves as the company's CCP Committee Secretary.[48][49] According to a report submitted to the Australian Parliament, Zhang Fuping stated that ByteDance should "transmit the correct political direction, public opinion guidance and value orientation into every business and product line."[50][51]

Partnerships

ByteDance's China business has a strategic partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security for the ministry's public relations efforts.[52] The partnership also said that ByteDance would work with the Ministry of Public Security in cooperation on unspecified "offline activities."[53][54]

In 2018, ByteDance helped to establish the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence, an initiative backed by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Beijing municipal government.[50][55]

In 2019, ByteDance formed joint ventures with Beijing Time, a publisher controlled by the Beijing municipal CCP committee, and with Shanghai Dongfang, a state media firm in Shanghai.[56][57] In 2021, ByteDance announced that its partnership with Shanghai Dongfang had never been in operation and was disbanded.[58]

In June 2022, ByteDance partnered with Shanghai United Media Group to launch a plan to develop domestic and foreign influencers.[59]

Lobbying

ByteDance's lobbying efforts in the U.S. are led by Michael Beckerman.[60][61] According to disclosures filed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, ByteDance has lobbied the United States Congress, White House, Department of Commerce, Department of State, and the Department of Defense.[62][63] As of July 2023, ByteDance has spent more than $17.7 million in lobbying since it first reported payments to federal lobbyists in 2019.[64] In 2023, the company spent $8.7 million on lobbying.[65]

ByteDance's lobbying has included hiring K&L Gates, LGL Advisors, and other firms to influence bills such as the United States Innovation and Competition Act, American Innovation and Choice Online Act, and the annual National Defense Authorization Act.[61]

ByteDance's lobbying team also includes former US Senators Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.), and former US Representatives Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).[66]

In the run-up to the 2024 United States Senate elections, ByteDance launched a $2.1 million ad campaign targeting US Senate districts with vulnerable Democrats.[67]

Products

CapCut

Main article: CapCut

First released to the public in April 2020, CapCut is a video editing software made for beginners.[68] As of March 2023, CapCut has more than 200 million active users each month, and according to The Wall Street Journal, it was downloaded more than the TikTok app in March 2023.[69] In March 2023, it was the second-most downloaded app in the U.S. behind that for Chinese discount retailer, Temu.[28]

Douyin

Main article: TikTok § Douyin

First released to the public in September 2016, Douyin (Chinese: 抖音; pinyin: Dǒuyīn), previously named A.me, is the Chinese version of TikTok. The application is a short-form video social media platform that differs from its international counterpart version by having more advanced features, such as e-commerce.[70] TikTok and Douyin have almost the same user interface but no access to each other's content. Their servers are each based in the market where the respective app is available.[71]

Lark

Main article: Lark (software)

First released to the public in 2019, Lark is ByteDance's enterprise collaboration platform.[72] Lark was originally developed as an internal tool, becoming ByteDance's primary internal communication and collaboration platform, but was eventually made available to external users in certain markets.[73]

TikTok

Main article: TikTok

First released to the public in September 2017, TikTok is a video-sharing social networking service[74] used to make short-form videos, from genres like dance, comedy, and education.[75][76] On 9 November 2017, ByteDance acquired Shanghai-based social media start-up Musical.ly for up to US$1 billion. They combined it and prior acquisition Flipagram[77][78] into TikTok on 2 August 2018, keeping the TikTok name.

TikTok Music

Formerly known as Resso, TikTok Music launched in Indonesia and Brazil in July 2023.[79] On October 19, 2023, TikTok Music premiered in Mexico, Singapore and Australia.[80]

The platform allows users to highlight and share lyrics, comments and other user-generated content with each other alongside streaming of full-length tracks.[81] ByteDance says that it has licensing agreements in place with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Merlin Network and Beggars Group, among others.[82] Resso will be shut down in India in January 2024, due to "local market conditions".[83][84]

Toutiao

Main article: Toutiao

Toutiao (Chinese: 今日头条; pinyin: Jīnrì Tóutiáo), launched in August 2012,[15] started out as a news recommendation engine and gradually evolved into a platform delivering content in various formats, such as texts, images, question-and-answer posts, microblogs, and videos.[85][86]

In January 2014, the company created the "Toutiaohao" (头条号) platform to attract more content creators. Later in the year, it added video capabilities. Toutiao used interest-based and decentralized distribution to help long tail content creators find an audience.[87]

In 2017, Toutiao acquired Flipagram. ByteDance would later expand Toutiao's features to include: a missing person alerts project whose alerts have helped find 13,116 missing persons as of June 2020;[88] short-form video platform Toutiao Video, later rebranded as Xigua Video (西瓜视频, also known as Watermelon Video), which hosts video clips that are on average 2–5 minutes long;[89] and Toutiao Search, a search engine.[90]

Xigua Video

Main article: Xigua Video

Initially launched as Toutiao Video in 2016, Xigua Video (Chinese: 西瓜视频; pinyin: Xīguā shìpín) is an online video-sharing platform that features user-created short and mid-length videos and also produces film and television content.[91]

Nuverse

Initially launched in 2019, Nuverse has launched as a video game publisher company.[92] The first game launched outside mainland China was Warhammer 40,000: Lost Crusade in 2021. Later in 2021, Moonton became a subsidiary of Nuverse, after winning the bid, initially set by Tencent.[93][94]

In 2022, the studio has launched Marvel Snap in October worldwide, after closed alpha testing in the Philippines, and gradually entering open beta with the first country being New Zealand. In November 2023, Reuters reported ByteDance was restructuring Nuverse and retreating from gaming.[95]

Other products and acquisitions

Censorship, surveillance, and data privacy concerns

Further information: Censorship on TikTok

ByteDance has garnered attention over surveillance,[104][105] data privacy,[106] and censorship concerns,[107][108] including content pertaining to human rights in Tibet and the persecution of Uyghurs in China.[note 1] Concern has also been raised over the potential effects, including extraterritorial jurisdiction, of China's National Intelligence Law and Cybersecurity Law on ByteDance and its employees.[114][50]: 42–43 

Government regulation

China

See also: Internet censorship in China

In April 2018, China's state media regulator, the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), ordered the temporary removal of Toutiao and Neihan Duanzi from Chinese app stores. The NRTA accused Neihan Duanzi in particular of hosting "vulgar" and "improper" content and "triggering strong sentiments of resentment among internet users".[115] The following day, Neihan Duanzi announced it was permanently shutting down.[115] In response to the shutdown, Yiming issued a letter stating that the app was "incommensurate with socialist core values" and promised that ByteDance would "further deepen cooperation" with the authorities to promote their policies.[116][117] Following the shutdown, ByteDance announced that it would give preference to Chinese Communist Party members in its hiring and increase its censors from 6,000 to 10,000 employees.[118][119][120]

As of 2019, ByteDance's Beijing headquarters has maintained an office where cybersecurity police are stationed so that illegal content can be instantly reported.[121][122] In November 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) ordered ByteDance to remove "slanderous" information on Fang Zhimin from Toutiao.[123] In April 2020, the CAC ordered ByteDance to take down its office collaboration tool, Lark, because it could be used to circumvent Internet censorship.[124] In January 2021, Chinese regulators fined ByteDance for spreading "vulgar information."[125][126] In April 2021, ByteDance was among 13 online platforms ordered by the People's Bank of China to adhere to tighter data and financial regulations.[127] The bank stated that ByteDance must conduct comprehensive self-examination and rectification to adhere to the country's laws.[128] In May 2021, the CAC stated that ByteDance had engaged in illegal data collection and misuse of personal information.[129]

In March 2021, the State Administration for Market Regulation fined a ByteDance subsidiary and other companies for antitrust violations.[58]

In April 2022, ByteDance announced that it would report users' content on Toutiao and Douyin that engaged in "historical nihilism" in contradiction of official CCP history.[130]

In November 2022, during the 2022 COVID-19 protests in China, the CAC directed ByteDance to intensify its censorship of the protests.[131]

In November 2023, Forbes reported that ByteDance's internal workplace tool called Feishu, which contains "product network security, data security, personal information, and daily operations," was accessed by the CAC and other Chinese government authorities in the run-up to the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.[121]

India

See also: Censorship of TikTok

Citing national security issues the Indian Government banned CapCut and TikTok along with 58 other Chinese apps on 29 June 2020.[132] The ban was made permanent in January 2021.[133][69] In March 2021, the Indian government froze ByteDance's bank accounts in the country for alleged tax evasion, which ByteDance disputed.[134]

Ireland

In 2023, ByteDance was scrutinized by the Central Bank of Ireland for deficiencies in its anti-money laundering controls of its payment division.[135]

Taiwan

In December 2022, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council announced an investigation into ByteDance on suspicion of operating an illegal subsidiary in the country.[136] The company reportedly registered "Tiktoktaiwan Co Ltd" in March, which changed its name to "ByteDance Taiwan" in November.[137]

Turkey

In 2022, Turkey's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) initiated a probe into ByteDance in relation to millions of dollars in fund transfers involving TikTok accounts that were suspected of money laundering or terrorism financing.[135]

United States

Further information: TikTok § United States, Restrictions on TikTok in the United States, and Donald Trump–TikTok controversy

In 2019, ByteDance's subsidiary TikTok was fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.[138][139] In response, ByteDance added a kids-only mode to TikTok which blocks the upload of videos, the building of user profiles, direct messaging, and commenting on other's videos, while still allowing the viewing and recording of content.[140]

TikTok and ByteDance have come under US lawmaker scrutiny due to fears of surveillance by the Chinese government.[141] U.S. President Donald Trump wanted TikTok to be sold or be banned from app stores in the country. His executive orders were later blocked by the courts and revoked by his successor Joe Biden.[142][143][144][145] On 28 August 2020, China announced an update to its export control rules that, according to experts, could give Chinese authorities a say in any potential sale of ByteDance's technology to foreign firms.[146]

In March 2023, the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation after ByteDance employees tracked journalists to find internal leaks.[8] In response, ByteDance fired four employees.[147][148][149]

In March 2024 the House of Representatives passed a bill which, if passed through the Senate and signed by the President, forces ByteDance to divest TikTok or have the platform banned.[150] In April, the United States Congress passed a modified version of the bill in a foreign aid package.[151][152] The bill was signed into law by President Joe Biden on April 24, 2024, giving ByteDance until January 19, 2025, to divest TikTok.[153]

Notes

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