Smaller than Tokopedia in size, the company is valued at $1 billion — it became Indonesia’s fourth unicorn one year ago. The country, which is Southeast Asia’s largest economy and has a population of over 260 million, also counts Tokopedia, Go-Jek and Traveloka in the billion-dollar club.
Founded in 2010, Bukalapak claims an impressive two million orders per day and 50 million registered users. On the seller side, it said its core e-commerce business covers products from four million SMEs, 500,000 kiosk vendors and 700,000 ‘independent’ micro-businesses in Indonesia. Bukalapak means ‘open a stall’ in Indonesia’s Bahasa language, and anyone can open a shopfront on the platform.
This week, Bukalapak landed another notable funding milestone after it raised $50 million Series D round from the Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, a joint vehicle operated by Korean mutual fund Mirae Asset and Naver, the firm whose businesses include popular messaging service Line. This is the first time Bukalapak has disclosed the size of an investment in its business, although it did not give an updated valuation. The startup counts Alibaba’s Ant Financial, Indonesia telco Emtek, Sequoia India and Singaporean sovereign fund GIC among its existing backers.
Bukalapak is one of Indonesia’s leading online commerce platforms with four million registered users, a claimed two million daily transactions and a valuation of more than $1 billion
Bukalapak said it plans to use its new funds to grow opportunities for its SME retail partners and build out its tech platform, that’s likely to mean digital services such as insurance and a mobile wallet.
The company made a major push last year to partner with local ‘warung’ kiosk store retailers — who sell items much like street vendors — in a bit to differentiate itself from Tokopedia, which is much like Alibaba’s Taobao service for Indonesia, and develop an offering for consumers.
Beyond its e-commerce marketplace, Bukalapak also offers streaming and fintech products.
Underwood joined Slack, the provider of workplace communication tools, in 2015 as its head of platform after a five-year stint as Twitter’s director of product. She was promoted to the chief product role about 10 months ago. Underwood is also a founding partner of #Angels, an investment collective that pushes to get more women on startup cap tables.
In a Medium post announcing her departure from Slack, Underwood said she planned to focus on investing full time.
“One common story you hear when you talk to founders is that their idea ran as a background process for many years until it moved into the foreground and became a calling too loud to ignore,” Underwood wrote. “And now, I can truly empathize with founders — because that’s happened for me. Investing, which started as a side hustle for me and my #Angels partners, has emerged as the pursuit too inspiring and energizing to be relegated to my spare time.”
During her tenure, Underwood had a hand in crafting Slack’s investment fund — a pool of capital supported by Accel, Index Ventures, KPCB, Social Capital, Andreessen Horowitz and Spark Capital that has invested in 49 projects building on top of Slack to date.
Slack, led by founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield, is said to be preparing for a direct listing, meaning it will go public without listing any new shares, with no lockup period and no intermediary bankers. Valued at roughly $7 billion, Slack has raised more than $1 billion to date from GV, IVP, T. Rowe Price, SoftBank, Kleiner Perkins, Accel and others.
Slack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP. This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.
The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.
To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.
N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.
Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.
Key takeaways: 1. Seed activity for U.S. startups declined for the fourth straight year 2. Median U.S. seed deal was the highest on record in Q4 at $2.1M 3. Seed activity as a % of deals shrunk to 25% 4. Companies securing seed deals are older than ever https://t.co/exr8DRQRAF
This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.
Southeast Asian ride-hailing challenger Go-Jek has expanded into three new markets as it bids to expand beyond its native Indonesia, but it is having major issues getting into a fourth.
The company — which rivals Grab, is valued at over $6 billion and is backed by the likes of Google and Tencent — this week suffered a blow in the Philippines where the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) denied its application to operate in the country, as Rappler reports.
The issue is pretty simple: Go-Jek’s Philippines-based business — an entity called Velox Technology Philippines — is majority owned by an overseas business. (Go-Jek’s own Singapore-based Velox South-East Asia Holdings.) That violates local law which stipulates that at least 60 percent of a company should be owned by Philippines individuals or entities.
That’s a pretty major roadblock which, for now, Go-Jek doesn’t appear to have much chance adhering to without major structural change. It remains unclear how the company failed to foresee this issue, but that’s another matter altogether.
“We continue to engage positively with the LTFRB and other government agencies, as we seek to provide a much needed transport solution for the people of the Philippines,” was all Go-Jek would say when asked for comment from TechCrunch .
The company declined to provide more details, including the identity of Grab’s Philippines-based owner.
Previously, Philippines law allowed ride-hailing services to operate as ‘telecommunications services’ but that changed last year.
This week’s ruling is a blow for Go-Jek, which has moved into Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore over the last six months following a protracted $1.5 billion funding round secured last year. Go-Jek is edging close to finalizing a new investment of $2 billion which TechCrunch understands will be used to offer additional services and expand its presence in those three expansion markets.
Hellobike, currently the country’s third-largest bike-sharing app according to Analysys data, announced this week that it raised “billions of yuan” ($1 = 6.88 yuan) in a new round. The company declined to reveal details on the funding amount and use of the proceeds when inquired by TechCrunch.
Leading the round were Ant Financial, the financial affiliate of Alibaba and maker behind digital wallet Alipay, and Primavera Capital, a Chinese investment firm that’s backed other mobility startups including electric automaker Xpeng and car trading platform Souche. The fledgling startup also got SoftBank interested in shelling out an investment, The Information reported in November. The fresh capital arrived about a year after it secured $350 million from investors including Ant Financial.
It’s interesting to note that while both Ofo and Hellobike fall under the Alibaba camp, they began with different geographic targets. By May, only 5 percent of Hellobike’s users were in China’s Tier 1 cities, while that ratio was over 30 percent for both Mobike and Ofo, a report by Trustdata shows.
This small-town strategy gives Hellobike an edge. As the bike-sharing markets in China’s major cities become crowded, operators began turning to lower-tier cities in 2017, a report from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology points out.
Hellobike’s ambition doesn’t stop at two-wheelers. In September, it rebranded its Chinese name to HelloTransTech to signify an extension into other transportation means. Aside from bikes, the startup also offers shared electric bikes, ride-hailing and carpooling, a category that became much contested following high-profile passenger murders on Didi Chuxing .
In May and August, two female customers were killed separately when they used the Hitch service on Didi, China’s biggest ride-hailing platform that took over Uber’s China business. The incidents sparked a huge public and regulatory backlash, forcing Didi to suspend its carpooling service up to this day. But this week, its newly minted rival Hellobike decides to forge ahead with a campaign to recruit carpooling drivers. Time will tell whether the latecomer can grapple with heightened security measures and fading customer confidence in riding with strangers.
Southeast Asian ride-hailing firm Grab is aiming to start the new year with a bang and an awful load of bucks. The company, which acquired Uber’s local business earlier this year, is planning to raise as much as $5 billion from its ongoing Series H round, up from an original target of $3 billion, a source with knowledge of the plan told TechCrunch.
Grab declined to comment for this story.
That Series H round has been open since June. Already, it has seen participation from the likes of Toyota, Microsoft, Booking Holdings and Yamaha Motors who have pushed it close to the original $3 billion target. Prior to raising $150 million from Yamaha, Grab said the round stood at $2.7 billion. While it is true that the company first announced that it was “on track to raise over $3 billion by the end of 2018,” it is not public knowledge that it has set its sights as high as $5 billion.
A big part of that expansion is a planned investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund which, as TechCrunch reported last week, is aiming to pump up to $1.5 billion into the business. Adding that to the $3 billion total appears to leave a further $500 million allocation for other investors to take up.
Grab is already the most capitalized startup in Southeast Asia’s history having raised around $6.8 billion to date from investors, according to data from Crunchbase. The company was last valued at $11 billion — when Toyota invested the initial $1 billion in this Series H six months ago — and it is unclear how much that valuation will increase when the round is completed.
The company is also one of the widest reaching consumer internet companies in Southeast Asia, a region of 650 million consumers. Grab claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date, while it has expanded into fintech and it is going beyond ride-hailing app to offer Southeast Asia a ‘super app’ in the mold of Meituan in China. On the financial side, Grab is assumed to not yet be profitable. But it has said that it made $1 billion in revenue and that it projects that the figure will double in 2019.
Buying Uber’s business made it the dominant ride-sharing operator in the region — a position that saw it pay fines in Singapore and the Philippines — but Uber’s exit also saw Go-Jek, a rival in Indonesia, step up and expand its business into new markets. Go-Jek — which is backed by the likes of Tencent, Meituan and Google — entered Vietnam in August and it has recently launched in Thailand and Singapore as it bids to step into Uber’s shadow.
The latest victim is Bitmain, a provider of bitcoin mining hardware that very recently submitted its IPO prospectus to the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. The company confirmed to CoinDesk this week that cutbacks would begin imminently: “There has been some adjustment to our staff this year as we continue to build a long-term, sustainable and scalable business,” a spokesperson for Bitmain told CoinDesk . “A part of that is having to really focus on things that are core to that mission and not things that are auxiliary.”
Beijing-based Bitmain hasn’t clarified just how many of its employees will be impacted, though rumors — which Bitmain has since denied — on Maimai, a Chinese LinkedIn-like platform, suggest as many as 50 percent of the company’s headcount could be laid off. This news comes after the crypto mining giant confirmed it had shuttered its Israeli development center, Bitmaintech Israel, laying off 23 employees in the process.
Bitmain employs at least 2,000 people, up from 250 in 2016, according to PitchBook, as the company’s growth has skyrocketed.
The decreasing value of Bitcoin.
“The crypto market has undergone a shake-up in the past few months, which has forced Bitmain to examine its various activities around the globe and to refocus its business in accordance with the current situation,” Bitmaintech Israel head Gadi Glikberg reportedly told his employees at the time of the layoffs.
In its IPO filing, Bitmain reported more than $2.5 billion in revenue last year, up nearly 10x on the $278 million it claimed for 2016. As for the first half of 2018, Bitmain said it surpassed $2.8 billion in revenue. These are astonishing numbers, yes, but whether Bitmain can sustain this kind of momentum has been called into question, especially as it gears up to go public in what would be the largest crypto-related IPO to date. The crypto market, by nature, is unpredictable — a characteristic that’s less than favorable to public market investors.
Startups sacrifice staff
Meanwhile, Huobi Group, a crypto trading platform also headquartered in Beijing, is laying off a portion of its 1,000 employees, too, according to a report from the South China Morning Post.
Huobi, which is backed by Sequoia and ZhenFund, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Excited as we are about ConsenSys 2.0, our first step in this direction has been a difficult one: we are streamlining several parts of the business including ConsenSys Solutions, spokes, and hub services, leading to a 13% reduction of mesh members,” ConsenSys founder and crypto billionaire Joseph Lubin wrote in a letter to employees regarding the layoffs.
“We still believe that Steem can be by far the best, and lowest cost, blockchain protocol for applications and that the improvements that will result from this new direction will make it far better for application sustainability,” founder and chief executive officer Ned Scott wrote in a statement. “However, in order to ensure that we can continue to improve Steem, we need to first get costs under control to remain economically sustainable. There’s nothing that I want more now than to survive, to keep steemit.com operating, and keep the mission alive, to make great communities.”
Downsizing following periods of rapid growth — which many crypto startups experienced during the Bitcoin boom — is only natural, but can these businesses continue to endure periods of extreme volatility without crashing completely? One thing is certain: If the price of Bitcoin sinks further and further, “staff adjustments” at crypto startups large and small will be unavoidable.
Many founders believe in the myth that the first steps of starting a business are the hardest: Attracting the first investment, the first hires, proving the technology, launching the first product, and landing the first customer. Although those critical first steps are difficult, they are certainly not the most difficult on the arduous path of building an iconic company. As early and late-stage funding becomes more abundant, founders and their early VC backers need to get smarter about how to position their companies for a looming valley of death in between. As we’ll learn below, it’s only going to get much, much harder before it gets easier.
Money will have the look, and heft, of dumbbells as the economic cycle turns. Expect an abundance of small, seed checks at one end, an abundance of massive checks for clear, breakout companies at the other, and a dearth of capital for expanding companies with early proof points and market traction. Read more on how to best prepare for this inevitable future. (Image courtesy Flickr/CircaSassy)
There will be an abundance of capital at the two ends of the startup spectrum. At one end, hundreds of seed and micro VCs, each armed with dozens of $250k-$1M checks to write every year, are on the prowl for visionary founders with pedigree and resumes. At the other end, behemoths like Softbank, sovereigns, as well “early-stage” firms raising larger funds are seeking breakout companies ready for checks that are in the mid-tens to hundreds of millions. There will be a dearth of capital to grow companies from a kernel of a business, to a becoming the clear market-defining leader. In fact, we’re already seeing deal volume decreasing significantly as dollars increase, likely evidence of larger checks going into fewer companies.
Even as the overall number of deals decrease below 2012 levels, the overall dollars invested into startups continue to soar. The 200+ “seed” stage funds formed since 2012 will continue to chase nascent companies. Meanwhile, the increasing number of mega-funds will seek breakout companies into which to make $100M+ investments. Companies with early traction seeking ~$20M to grow will be abundant and have difficulty accessing capital.
Founders should no longer assume that their all-star seed and Series A syndicates will guarantee a successful follow-on financing. Progress on recruiting and product development, though necessary, are no longer sufficient for B-rounds and beyond. Founders should be mindful that investors that specialize in leading $20-50M rounds will have a plethora of well-funded, well-mentored, well-staffed startups with slick presentations, big visions, and some early market traction, to choose from.
Today, there is far more capital chasing fewer quality companies. Fewer breakout companies and fear of missing out is making it easy to raise growth rounds with revenue growth which may not be scalable or even reflective of an attractive business. This is creating false realities and prompting founders to raise big rounds at high prices — which is fine when there is an over-abundance of capital, but can cripple them when capital later becomes scarce. For example, not long ago, cleantech companies, armed with very preliminary sales, raised massive financings from VCs eager to back winners towards scaling into what they characterized as infinite demand. The reality is that the capital required to meet target economics was far greater and demand far smaller. As the private markets turned, access to cash became difficult and most faltered or were acquired for pennies on the dollar.
There is a likely future where capital grows scarce, and investors take a harder look at the underpinnings of revenue, growth, and (dis)economies of scale.
What should startup leadership teams emphasize in an inevitable future where the $30M rounds will be orders of magnitude harder than their $5M rounds?
A business model representative of the big vision
Leadership teams put lots of emphasis on revenue. Unfortunately, revenue that’s not representative of the big vision is probably worse than no revenue at all. Companies are initially seeded with the expectation that the founding team can build and sell something. What needs to be proven is the hypothesis that the company can a) build a special product that b) is inexpensive to convince customers to pay for, and c) that those customers represent a massive market. It should be proven that it is unattractive for customers to switch to the inevitable copycats. It should be clear that over time, customers will pay more for additional features, and the cost of acquiring new customers will go down. Simply selling a product to customers that don’t represent that model, is worse than not selling anything at all.
Recruiting talent that’s done it
Early founding teams are cognitively diverse individuals that can convince early investors that they can overcome the incredible odds of building a company that until now, shouldn’t have existed. They build a unique product, leveraging unique tools satisfying an unmet need. The early teams need to demonstrate the big vision, and that they can recruit the people that can make that vision a reality. Unfortunately, more founders struggle when it comes to recruiting people that have real experience reducing a technology to practice, executing on a product that customers want, and charting the path to expand their market with improving unit economics. There are always exceptions of people that do the above for the first time at startups; however, most of today’s iconic startups knew what kind of talent they needed to execute and succeeded in bringing them on board. Who’s on your team?
Present metrics that matter
The attractive SaaS valuation multiples behoove all founders to apply its metrics to their businesses even if they aren’t really SaaS businesses. Sophisticated later-stage investors see right past that and dismiss numbers associated with metrics that are not representative. Semiconductors are about winning dedicated sockets in growing markets. Design tools are about winning and upselling seats in an industry that’s going to be hooked on those tools. Develop a clear understanding of how your business will be measured. Don’t inundate your investor with numbers; present a concise hypothesis for your unfair advantage in a growing market with your current traction being evidence to back it.
Find efficiencies by working in massive markets
“Pouring fuel on the fire” is a misleading metaphor that leads some into believing that capital can grow any business. That’s just as true as watering a plant with a firehose water or putting TNT in your Corolla’s gas tank: most business models and markets simply are not native to the much-sought-after venture growth profile. In fact, most later-stage startups that fail after raising large amounts of capital, fail for this reason. Most markets are conducive to businesses with DIS-economies of scale, implying dwindling margins with scale, which is why many businesses are small serving local, fragmented markets that technology alone cannot consolidate. How do your unit economics improve over time? What are the efficiencies generated by economies of scale? Is there a real network effect that drives these economies?
Image courtesy Getty Images
I expect today’s resourceful founders to seek partners, whether its employees, advisors, or investors, to help them answer these questions. Together, these cognitively diverse teams will work together accelerate past any metaphoric valley and build the iconic companies taking humanity to its fantastic future.
SoftBank’s Vision Fund is set to continue its recent spree of investments in Asian tech unicorns. The mega fund — which is targeted at $100 billion — is planning to invest upwards of $1 billion into Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing leader Grab, two sources with knowledge of the plan told TechCrunch. The investment could reach as much as $1.5 billion, one source added.
A SoftBank representative did not respond to a request for comment. Grab declined to comment.
There is a pattern that SoftBank appears to be following here.
In all three cases, the Japanese company was an existing investor and, having transferred its stakes to the Vision Fund, it then doubled down and invested again via the Vision Fund itself. That’s also the plan for this Grab deal, TechCrunch understands.
SoftBank’s most recent financial report, filed in November, explains that it plans to move its stakes in ride-hailing firms Uber, China’s Didi, India’s Ola and Grab over to the Vision Fund. But that hasn’t happened yet and it isn’t clear when it will.
“The Company expects that the necessary procedures will be made in the future to obtain applicable consent from limited partners of the Fund and regulatory approvals for the transfer,” it explained in the report, which doesn’t include a projected timeframe.
One source told TechCrunch that the investment in Grab is contingent on that equity transfer being made, as was the case with Tokopedia and Coupang, which saw SoftBank-owned stakes transferred to the fund in Q3 of this year.
Grab CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan [Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images]
Grab operates across eight markets in Southeast Asia, where it claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date. The company acquired Uber’s business earlier this year in a deal that saw the U.S. company pick up a 27.5 percent stake in Grab and turn their rivalry into a partnership. The merger deal, however, was criticized by regulators and, in Singapore, the pair were fined a total of $9.5 million for violating anti-competition laws.
Grab is Southeast Asia’s highest-valued tech startup, having commanded an $11 billion valuation through this Series H round. It isn’t clear how much that figure will increase if, as and when this Vision Fund investment closes. The company has raised around $6.8 billion to date from investors, according to data from Crunchbase.
There’s worrying news from China’s online media world as ByteDance, the $75 billion company behind popular video app TikTok is taking a news site to court for alleged defamation after it published a story about ByteDance’s fake news problem in India.
U.S. tech firms have come to rely on media to help uncover issues, but Chinese tech news site Huxiu has become the latest litigation target of ByteDance, which reportedly surpassed Uber’s valuation after raising $3 billion. The company has sued internet giants Tencent and Baidu in the past year for alleged anti-competitive behavior.
This time around, ByteDance — which is backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, KKR and General Atlantic among others — has taken issue with an op-ed published earlier this month that spotlights a fake news problem on its Indian language news app, Helo.
Launched in July as part of ByteDance’s push in India, Helo competes with local media startups such as Xiaomi-backed ShareChat and DailyHunt as well as Facebook. ByteDance operates news app Jinri Toutiao with over 250 million monthly active users in China, according to data services provider QuestMobile. TikTok, branded as Douyin in China, has a reach well beyond its home front and claims 500 million MAUs worldwide with an additional 100 million users gleaned from its Musical.ly buyout.
“An insult and abuse”
On December 4, Huxiu published an opinion piece that condemned Helo and ShareChat for allowing misinformation to spread. One Helo post, for instance, falsely claimed that a Congress leader had suggested that India should help neighboring rival Pakistan clear its debt rather than invest in the State of Unity, a pricey local infrastructure project.
In response, ByteDane filed a lawsuit against Huxiu, saying that the Chinese news site made defamatory statements against it in translating an op-ed by contributor Elliott Zaagman. Tech blog TechNode — TechCrunch’s partner in China — ran an edited English version of the story but it is not part of the suit.
Zhang Yiming, founder of ByteDance, poses for a photograph at the company’s headquarters in Beijing, China. Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
“Technode edited the piece and removed some of my words. Huxiu was, and is with most of my articles, true to my original words,” Zaagman wrote on his WeChat timeline.
To adhere only to “facts” as part of its editorial process, TechNode removed “colorful” parts of Zaagman’s article, according to the blog’s editor-in-chief.
What goes missing on TechNode is what incensed ByteDance. Zaagman’s unfiltered statements on Huxiu “constitute an insult and abuse against ByteDance” by “claiming that Chinese companies have influence over the Indian election,” a ByteDance spokesperson told TechCrunch.
“The content on Huxiu is obviously a rumor and libel. It’s malicious slander. Whether it’s Chinese or foreign publications, Chinese or foreign authors, they must respect the truth, laws, and principles of journalism,” the spokesperson added.
The unedited English version is posted on Zaagman’s personal LinkedIn account here. Here is one paragraph that TechNode removed:
Maybe still Zhang is simply a victim of his own success. Few entrepreneurs start a company expecting it to be worth $75 billion. But what he has created may have far broader ramifications. As is demonstrated by Russia’s use of American social networking platforms to interfere in Western elections, misinformation campaigns can be a tool used by adversaries to disrupt a country’s internal politics. At this current moment when China faces greater international tensions, a pushback to their rising influence in Asia, and territorial disputes along their border with India, the last thing that Beijing needs is accusations from an opportunistic Indian politician sounding the alarm about how Beijing-based Chinese companies are spreading misinformation among the impressionable Indian electorate….
And this as well:
Although, on second thought, maybe it makes perfect sense that Zhang Yiming is peddling products that he himself would likely never use. After all, any good drug dealer knows not to get high on their own supply.
In a statement, Huxiu dismissed ByteDance’s accusationfor being “wildly untrue” and bringing “major repercussions” for the online publication’s reputation. A spokesperson for Huxiu told TechCrunch that it hasn’t received any summons as the court is still processing the complaint.
In a peculiar twist to the incident, Huxiu actually pulled its Chinese version of Zaagman’s piece days leading to the ByteDance suit. The removal came as a result of “negotiations among multiple parties,” said the Huxiu representative who declined to share more details on the decision. In China, an online article can be subject to censorship for containing material considered illegal or inappropriate by the media platform itself or the government.
The problem of AI
The logo for ByteDance’s popular video app TikTok (called Douyin in China) at an electronic dance music festival. / Credit: ByteDance
“We work very closely with our local content review and moderation team in harnessing our algorithms to review and take down inappropriate content,” a Helo spokesperson told local newspaper Hindustan Times.
The concerns about Helo are the latest blow for ByteDance, which has marketed itself as an artificial intelligence company delivering what users want to see based on what their online interaction in the past. As has been the case with Western platforms, such as Google-owned YouTube which also uses an algorithm to feed users videos that they favor, the outcome can mean sensational and sometimes illegal content.
Along those lines, ByteDance’s focus on AI at the expense of significant “human-led” editorial oversight has come in for criticism.
In July, the Indonesian government banned TikTok because it contained “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy.” At home, Chinese media watchdogs have similarly slammed a number of the company’s other content platforms, and regulators in the country went so far as to shutter its humor app for serving “vulgar” content.
But ByteDance is hardly the only tech company entangled in China’s increased media scrutiny. Heavyweights including Tencent, Baidu, and ByteDance’s archrival Kuaishou have also come under attack at various degrees for hosting content deemed problematic by the authorities over the past year.