ByteDance has made it clear that it isn’t giving up on India.
After the government asked Google and Apple to remove ByteDance’s flagship short video app TikTok from their app stores last week, the Chinese internet giant said it would infuse USD 1 billion in the Indian market over the next three years.
In an interview with PTI, ByteDance’s director (International Public Policy) Helena Lersch said although the company is “obviously disappointed by the current developments”, it remains “very optimistic” that the issues will be resolved. She also said the company has been strengthening its content moderation policies over the last many months.
Built on a collection of valuable apps, ByteDance is the the world’s most valuable startup at USD 75 billion, according to a Bloomberg report. Apart from TikTok, it offers platforms like Helo and Vigo Video in India.
The Madras high court banned the app on April 3 for "pornographic and inappropriate content". In its petition to the Supreme Court last week, ByteDance said it cannot be held liable for actions of third parties on the platform. The 'disproportionate' ban has resulted in infringement of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, it said.
However, earlier this week, the Supreme Court refused to stay the Madras high court’s ban on the app. Following the ruling and subsequent order from Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), Apple and Google took down the app within a day. The matter is up for hearing in Supreme Court on April 22 and in the Madras high court on April 24.
According to Lersch, ByteDance’s commitment of USD 1 billion investment shows how bullish it is about India. The company also plans to increase the number of employees in India to 1,000 people by the end of this year from 250 at present, the PTI report said.
TikTok, which allows users to create short videos and share them, has more than 120 million users in India and is popular among youngsters. Globally, it has been downloaded over a billion times. Those who have already downloaded the app in India would be able to continue using it on their phones.
India, with over 400 million smartphone users, has emerged as one of the most important markets for ByteDance. According to Counterpoint Research, close to a billion smartphones will be sold over the next five years. Increasing availability of affordable smartphones coupled with cheap data plans has catapulted the country into the largest mobile data consumer market globally.
"We, as a company, abide by local laws, but we also want to be culturally appropriate. We have a content moderation team in India. We increased the capacity of our content moderation team globally by 400% last year because we were prepared for the growth," Lershc told PTI.
The company uses a machine learning tool to filter content which then goes to the local content moderation team, she said, adding around six million videos have been taken off the platform for violating its community guidelines.
Last month, TikTok introduced "Filter Comments" feature, which allows users to choose up to 30 words they wish to block in the comments section.
Earlier this year, ByteDance hired Sandhya Sharma, a former employee of MasterCard India and Samsung, as the director of public policy to take care of government relations in India. To placate authorities and save its Indian market, ByteDance also roped in Apurva Mehta, who was the legal counsel and director of government affairs at Qualcomm for India & South Asia, and Rahul Jain, who was with the public policy team of Google India.