Bytedance gets reprieve as Indian court lifts ban on TikTok app

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 25 Apr 2019

Zhang Yiming, chief executive officer and founder of Bytedance Ltd., poses for a photograph in Beijing, China, on Thursday, April 11, 2019. Zhang is worth about $13 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, making him China's 9th-richest person and one of the fastest in modern times to amass a mega-fortune. Photographer: Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg

Bytedance Ltd, the world’s most valuable startup, has been allowed by a court in India to restore access of its popular TikTok video-sharing app to users in one of the Chinese company’s most promising markets. 

The Madras High Court in its interim order on April 24 lifted the ban on the app, which had been blocked by Google and Apple Inc. TikTok was banned on concerns the app was exposing children to pornography and other disturbing content. The court will come up with a final order after hearing all the parties. 

TikTok will update their privacy protection norms according to the court’s order and will address any complaint over content in three to 36 hours,” said K. Neelamegam, a lawyer representing the petitioner. “If TikTok does not meet the conditions set by the court, contempt of court proceedings can be initiated against them.” 

The victory for China’s Bytedance, which was valued at US$75bil (RM310.29bil) last year, also comes as a relief for other startups hoping to cash in on the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market. It also dispels perception that India was adopting a draconian oversight on such companies, somewhat similar to what firms face in China. 

“The court has taken the right perspective,” said Faisal Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst at Gurugram-based researcher techARC. “Any other decision would have had an adverse impact on several other tech platforms.” 

Bytedance told the court the ban denied the right to free speech for millions of app users in India and also caused a loss of about US$600,000 (RM2.48mil) in daily revenue for the company. Apple and Google had banned new downloads of the app to comply with the earlier court decision. 

Beijing-based Bytedance, founded by Zhang Yiming, company has hired many of the China’s brightest artificial intelligence experts to develop addictive apps for everything from jokes and news to music videos. 

“While we’re pleased that our efforts to fight against misuse of the platform has been recognised, the work is never done on our end,” a spokesman for TikTok said in a statement in response to the judgment. “We are committed to continuously enhancing our safety features as a testament to our ongoing commitment to our users in India.” 

The company has had more success outside of China than any previous Chinese Internet company – and growth in overseas markets will help the company live up to high expectations when it decides to go public. In India, TikTok has attracted more than 120 million users thanks to a steady stream of videos with dance moves set to Bollywood music, slapstick humour and jokes in local languages. 

After starting Bytedance in 2012, Zhang’s first big hit was the news app Jinri Toutiao, or Today’s Headlines, which became China’s largest news site with more than 700 million users. He launched the short-video app Douyin in China in 2016 and created the international version, TikTok, the next year. Together, the apps have been installed more than a billion times. – Bloomberg

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