13 December 2019
The TikTok short-video app has faced increased scrutiny in India after reports of obscene and inappropriate content being circulated via the platform . Photo: Reuters
The TikTok short-video app has faced increased scrutiny in India after reports of obscene and inappropriate content being circulated via the platform . Photo: Reuters

ByteDance to invest US$1 bln in India despite TikTok setback

China’s ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup, plans to invest US$1 billion in India in the next three years despite facing a setback in the market in relation to the short-video app TikTok.

Bytedance remains “very optimistic” about its India business prospects and is hopeful that it can resolve the current issue pertaining to TikTok, Helena Lersch, Bytedance’s director for international public policy, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

“We are obviously disappointed by the current developments, but we are also very optimistic that we will resolve this issue,” Lersch said.

“As a company, we are looking to invest one billion dollars over the next three years in India, that is how bullish we will remain to be here,” she said.

The comments came after TikTok, which allows users to create and share videos with special effects, has been banned in India after it became a big hit in the country.

A court in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state asked the federal government on April 3 to ban TikTok, and prohibit media from broadcasting any content created on the app, citing reports of pornography and inappropriate content being circulated via the app.

To comply with the court’s directive, Google blocked access to TikTok in its Play store in India, and the app is also now not available in Apple’s App Store. In response, Bytedance challenged the state court’s ban order in India’s Supreme Court, saying it went against freedom of speech rights in India.

The ban does not apply to use of the TikTok app if it has already been downloaded.

The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected Bytedance’s request to put the ban order on hold. The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24, Reuters reports.

In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene. It also argued that it could not be held liable for content posted by users, while also pointing out that TikTok was primarily used to circulate amusing videos.

Lersch told PTI that ByteDance remains committed to its Indian users, and that the company has beefed up its content moderation policies in recent months.

The firm plans to use the machine learning tool to filter content, with a “content moderation team” set up to make culturally relevant decisions.

About 25 percent of the planned US$1 billion investment will be used towards content moderation, including increasing the number of full-time moderation staff based in India, Lersch said.

Bytedance will expand its India-based workforce to 1,000 by the end of this year, from the current level of about 250 people, as the firm is bullish about one of their most important markets.

Around six million videos have been taken off the platform for violating its community guidelines, according to Lersch.

Launched in China under the name Douyin, ByteDance’s video app was introduced overseas as TikTok in 2017. As a new sensation in India, TikTok has been downloaded by approximately 300 million users in the country, out of more than one billion installs globally, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Backed by heavyweight investors SoftBank, KKR and Sequoia, among others, ByteDance became the world’s most valuable startup after a funding round in 2018 that valued it at over US$75 billion.

In addition to TikTok, Bytedance has a host of other apps aimed at India’s large population. The offerings include video-sharing app Vigo Video and Reddit-like platform Helo which allows users to share content in local languages.

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