December 21, 2019
TIKTOK, a China-owned short video application that no western teenager can live without these days, emphasizes its independence from Beijing authorities. Your parent company, even less so. Bytedance, whose $ 75 billion valuation makes it the largest unlisted startup in the world, has just partnered with the Shanghai Dongfang Newspaper Company, a state publisher. The joint venture, in which Bytedance holds a 49% stake, will develop, among other things, technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).
Not the first Bytedance jive with the state. Since its founding in 2012, it has worked with most of China's news organizations, many of them state-owned, that need to feed their news app Jinri Toutiao – especially since the launch of the "New Age" two years ago. , a channel that mainly reports on government events. In 2018, he hired a former anchor on CCTV, China's state television, as vice president. In April, it signed a strategic partnership with Beijing Time, a news platform linked to the Beijing Municipal Party Committee.
Toutiao is periodically punished – by the government and users – for a serious shortage of content. The joint venture is seeking to fill this gap. Shanghai Dongfang owns the newspaper, a serious outlet that conducts proper investigative work (even if state censorship may diminish its advantage).
Bytedance is also not the only major Chinese technology company that works closely with state-owned companies, especially in areas such as AI that the Communist Party considers strategic. In 2016, Baidu, China's largest search engine, agreed to develop technology with a state-owned telecommunications company. In June, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, an e-commerce giant, met with SASAC, a government agency that oversees state-owned companies, to discuss relationships to promote digital innovation. Tencent, another Internet giant, was invited to do the same.
As natural as it may sound in China, the joint venture comes weeks after the US government opened a TikTok national security review, worrying that it would give Beijing access to data from millions of Americans and censors. content that the regime does not like. Bytedance insists that non-Chinese user data stays on non-Chinese servers and what Americans are or isn't shown is decided in America. He adds that his new Chinese initiative "will focus on digital rights to short videos." These guarantees are unlikely to impress your critics.
This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition, titled "A Bytedance Joins a State Chinese Publisher"
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