|Privately held company|
ByteDance's core product, Toutiao ("Headlines"), is a content platform in China and worldwide. Toutiao started out as a news recommendation engine and gradually evolved into a platform delivering content in a variety of formats, such as texts, images, question-and-answer posts, microblogs, and videos. Toutiao offers its users personalized information feeds that are powered by machine learning algorithms. A content feed is updated based on what the machine learns about a user's reading preferences.
ByteDance had over 800 million daily active users (over 1 billion accumulated users) across all of its content platforms as of November 2018. The company was valued at $78 billion as of November 2018 and is considered one of the most valuable unicorns in the world. The company has strategic partnerships with Communist Party of China-supported ventures in Beijing and Shanghai. ByteDance is backed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, SoftBank Group, Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic, and Hillhouse Capital Group. ByteDance has garnered public attention over allegations that it works closely with the Communist Party of China to censor and surveil content related to Uyghurs and, in particular, of content pertaining to Xinjiang re-education camps.
In March 2012, ByteDance launched its first app called Neihan Duanzi (内涵段子). This app allowed users to circulate jokes, memes, and humorous videos. At its peak, Neihan Duanzi had over 200 million users in 2017.
On 10 April 2018, ByteDance permanently sunset Neihan Duanzi, as the National Radio and Television Administration accused Neihan Duanzi of hosting “vulgar” and “improper” content and “triggering strong sentiments of resentment among internet users”. In response to Neihan Duanzi's shutdown, founder Zhang 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. 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.
In January 2014, the company created the “Toutiaohao” (头条号) platform to attract more PGC (professionally generated content) and UGC (user generated content) creators; and later in the year, added video capabilities. Toutiao used interest-based and decentralized distribution to help long-tail content creators find an audience. An often cited example is “Zhuguan Baba”, a young pig farmer in Northern China whose posts on how to raise pigs attracted millions of readers on Toutiao.
In February 2016, a missing person alerts project was started on the Toutiao platform. In 2017, the alerts helped find 3,573 missing persons.
In March 2016, ByteDance launched Toutiao Video, which was later rebranded as Xigua Video. Xigua Video is a short video platform that hosts a variety of video clips that are on average 2–5 minutes long.
In August 2019, Bytedance launches Toutiao Search as a part of its Toutiao portal - a news aggregator.
ByteDance launched TopBuzz in August 2015, a content platform for videos, articles, breaking news and GIFs in the U.S. and later in Brazil in 2016. ByteDance launched PGC short video platform TopBuzz Video in Japan in September 2016. In October 2016, ByteDance invested in India's largest vernacular content aggregation platform Dailyhunt. In December 2016, ByteDance invested in the Indonesian news recommendation platform BABE.
In February 2017, ByteDance acquired Flipagram. In July 2017, ByteDance launched their UGC short video platform Hypstar (Vigo Video) in Southeast Asia. In November 2017, ByteDance acquired global news app News Republic and global video community musical.ly. In November 2019, it was reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States had opened an investigation into ByteDance regarding its acquisition of musical.ly on national security grounds.
In November 2017, ByteDance acquired News Republic from Cheetah Mobile. ByteDance also started Gogokid in 2018, an online English learning platform for children that provides one-on-one classes with native English speakers.
The Underlying AI Technology
In 2016, ByteDance's AI Lab and Peking University co-developed Xiaomingbot, an artificial intelligence writing bot that writes news articles. The bot published 450 articles during the 15-day Summer Olympics. In general, Xiaomingbot published stories approximately two seconds after the event ended.
ByteDance's research arm, the AI lab was founded in March 2016 and is headed by Wei-Ying Ma, former assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia. The lab's research focuses on AI for understanding information (text, images, videos) in depth, and developing large-scale machine learning algorithms for personalized information recommendations. Its main research areas include Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, Computer Vision, Speech and Audio, Knowledge and Data Mining, Distributed System and Networking, and Computer Graphics.
In December 2018, ByteDance sued Huxiu for defamation after Huxiu reported that ByteDance's Indian-language news app Helo was propagating misinformation.
US Federal Trade Commission
On February 27, 2019, the FTC fined TikTok Inc. US$5.7 million for collecting information from minors under the age of 13 in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act in the United States. ByteDance responded by adding 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.
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