App icon as of February 2017
|Services||Information recommendation engine|
"Jinri Toutiao" in Simplified (top) and Traditional (bottom) Chinese characters.
|Literal meaning||Today's Headlines|
Toutiao (literally "Headlines") or Jinri Toutiao (literally "Today's Headlines") is a Chinese news and information content platform, a core product of the Beijing-based company ByteDance. By analyzing the features of content, users and users’ interaction with content, the company's algorithm models generate a tailored feed list of content for each user.
Toutiao is one of China's largest mobile platforms of content creation, aggregation and distribution underpinned by machine learning techniques, with 120 million daily active users as of September 2017.
In August 2012, Beijing ByteDance Technology Co., Ltd. launched the first version of its main product Toutiao.
The content on Toutiao comes from different sources. At first, a large portion of content was created from the Internet. Now, Toutiao currently has partnerships with over 20,000 traditional media outlets, which make up 10% of its feed, and 800,000 new media content creators.
In 2016, Toutiao's number of daily active users reached 78 million.
As of September 2017, Toutiao has 120 million daily active users, and is reported to be valued at US$20 billion. In 2019, publishers were reporting 20%+ of their traffic from Toutiao "Facebook traffic flood receded".
In 2018 State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT) asked Toutiao to increase its moderation and demanded that a particular account that SAPPRFT described as "vulgar" be removed from the service.
Toutiao uses algorithms to select different content for individual users. It uses machine learning systems for personalized recommendation that surfaces content which users have not necessarily signaled preference for yet.
Using natural language processing and computer vision, Toutiao extracts entities and keywords as features from each piece of content. When a user first opens the app, Toutiao makes a preliminary recommendation. Toutiao then fine-tunes its models with users' interactions with the app.
Toutiao launched its video channel in May 2015. Creators can upload their short videos, and the algorithm of Toutiao will recommend videos to users.
In July 2016, Toutiao launched a new channel called Q&A, an open discussion community. Registered users can share their experiences and opinions in specific fields under questions and interact with other users. Toutiao then recommends answers to users in its news feed and Q&A channel.
Fake news moderation
Toutiao identifies fake news by using a combination of human reviewers along with automated analysis of posts and comments.
User characteristics and behavior
In 2013, Toutiao provided a self-publishing platform to media organizations. The platform later evolved into Toutiaohao Account.
As of 2016, more than 350,000 individuals and organizations have started their Toutiaohao Accounts, including administration departments, media organizations, companies and individual writers. They publish 150,000 articles and videos on Toutiao every day.
Toutiao Alert for Missing Persons
Using location-based notification-pushing techniques, Toutiao initiated a corporate social responsibility project called “Toutiao Alert for Missing Persons”. People can send detailed information of the missing person, including their last known location and time. After a verification process, Toutiao will push notification messages of missing persons to its users within the possible range of their whereabouts.
As of 2016, 700 missing persons have been recovered as a result of Toutiao's users offering clues and notifying authority.
As of February 2017, over 1000 missing individuals have been found using this feature.
Toutiao's research arm, Toutiao AI Lab, was founded in March 2016 and is headed by Ma Wei-Ying. Its main research areas include Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, Computer Vision and Human-Computer Interaction.
Investment and globalization
In its domestic market, Toutiao has made an investment to Imaginechina.
Toutiao obtained a controlling stake of the Indonesian local-language news app Babe in 2016.
Toutiao's parent company, Bytedance owns TopBuzz in the US and Brazil.
After Toutiao's series D financing round at the end of 2016, with investments worth US$1 billion by Sequoia Capital, CCB International and other institutions, Toutiao is reported to be valued at more than 11 billion US dollars.
Legality of contents
On September 16, 2014, National Copyright Administration affirmed that Toutiao had violated the copyright of traditional media outlets by crawling and serving contents from its own servers; however, the administration also noted that Toutiao has already deleted the relevant contents and started negotiating for a formal license.
On December 29, 2017, Cyberspace Administration of China accused Toutiao and Phoenix News of “disseminating pornographic and vulgar information, had serious issues of misguiding people, and had an evil influence on the ecosystem of online public discourse”, listing “reposting news in violation of regulation, clickbait, and seriously disrupting the order of information flow on the network” as its main offense. In response, Toutiao halted its content update for six of its channels for 24 hours, shut down its “Society” channel, banned thousands of accounts, and started recruiting 2000 more censors.
Toutiao has a feature called “people you might know”. In December 2017, users noticed that the feature consistently showed them their contacts, despite not giving permission to either Toutiao or WeChat to read them. When questioned, Toutiao states that it “does not possess, collect or process users' private data”, and “reading users' contacts with their consent is a common practice in mobile Internet business”. On January 11, 2018, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology asked Toutiao to “abide by the laws and regulations, and only collect necessary personal information legally in a justified manner”.
On March 29, 2018, CCTV-2 reported that Toutiao showed advertisements violating the Advertising Law for dubious or counterfeit products, targeting cities where regulations aren't as tight. One company, Tong Ren Tang was forced to delist its genuine products by the CFDA on December 29, 2017, due to the complaints filed by those who bought the advertised counterfeits. Tong Ren Tang stated that they have never advertised on Toutiao, and have filed complaints against such illegal advertisements with Toutiao before, however in some cases Toutiao rejected their complaints, instead responding “Why don't you advertise? If you advertise your genuine products, there won't be any counterfeits,” and when requested for the identities of the advertisers, Toutiao responded “you as a company have no rights to know that”.
During an interview, employees of Toutiao says that as long as one's willing to pay more advertising fee, they don't care if the product is good or not, and if the product is not certified, they'll fake one, and they'll help set up a landing page with legal content which will guide the visitor to the illegal advertisement, and find a proxy company so that when the regulators find out, they can blame the proxy.
Toutiao responded on March 30 saying that the relevant advertisers and proxies have been banned from Toutiao indefinitely, and the employees have been fired. Toutiao says it will soon implement a warning when users are navigating away from contents controlled by Toutiao.
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