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Bytedance: This is the billion dollar company behind Tiktok

Last updated on March 9, 2021

12/20/2019, 08:14 a.m.

Tiktok was the social media hype of the year – despite reports of censorship and discrimination. We introduce you to the IT company behind the app.

The short video platform Tiktok is currently one of the most successful apps among teenagers. It is used all over the world in 175 different languages. Last year alone, the app is said to have been downloaded 750 million times .

Tiktok is also the most controversial app of the year: In the US, people are afraid of China’s influence on American teenagers – and wonder if the data is safe. In Europe there are warnings about platform censorship and its dealings with minorities.

Tiktok’s parent company Bytedance still broke a glass ceiling with the app: It is the first social media app from China to make its big breakthrough in the United States and Europe. Bytedance is only seven years old.

120 million users – every day

Bytedance was founded in March 2012 by Chinese programmer and entrepreneur Zhang Yiming . Yiming had previously worked for various IT companies, including Microsoft, and founded a company himself. Yiming’s first product with the new company Bytedance was the content platform Toutiao – and thus a huge success in the Chinese network: According to press reports , the bytedance platform Toutiao should have had 120 million active users in 2017 – daily!

Earned $ 7 billion in half a year

Bytedance now also seems to be able to monetize the reach: the company is said to have earned over seven billion US dollars in the first half of 2019 .

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How Bytedance came to Tiktok

While Toutiao, the Bytedance news platform, has been growing since 2012, two different projects have developed into what we know today as Tiktok: In September 2016, Bytedance launched the video and music platform Douyin – with the international subsidiary Tiktok. Meanwhile, Chinese designer Alex Zhu founded the musical platform .

Zhu comes from China, but had worked at SAP in the USA after completing his studies. The idea for the app, according to Zhu in an interview , came to him on a train in the USA: the teenagers around him listened to music, took selfies and showed them to their friends. All of this, Zhu thought, could be packed into a single app.

After the launch of in 2014, the app went viral, while Zhu himself moved to Shanghai. In 2017 was bought by Bytedance , which had had rival Douyin on the Chinese market since 2016 and developed the Tiktok app for the international market. After purchasing, Bytedance integrated the app into Tiktok. Douyin has remained something like the Tiktok version for the Chinese market.

Byte dance: Problems with the authorities in China

The Tiktok app has recently been heavily criticized in Germany: Only in the English newspaper The Guardian did details about Tiktok’s moderation guidelines appear according to which political content should be censored. Issues such as the Hong Kong protests did not appear on Tiktok either , although they are prominently featured on most other social media platforms. Then it became known that Tiktok intentionally restricted the reach of people with disabilities .

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But in China, too, bytedance has apparently already gotten into trouble with the authorities – and had to submit: According to a report in the New York Times , bytedance managers were appointed by the authorities in November because they disagreed with the search results from a bytedance search engine ,

And if China’s censors disagree with the media company, Bytedance doesn’t seem to stand a chance: According to media reports, two other Bytedance video apps have already disappeared from the app store in China, after which state television had complained about the content.