India court dismisses ByteDance’s plea to unblock bank accounts

MUMBAI (Reuters) – An Indian court on Tuesday dealt a blow to China’s ByteDance by dismissing its plea to unblock its bank accounts which have been frozen by federal authorities investigating alleged tax evasion.

An Indian tax intelligence agency in mid-March ordered HSBC and Citibank in Mumbai to freeze accounts of ByteDance India as it probed some of the firm’s financial dealings. ByteDance challenged the move in court saying the freeze amounts to harassment and was done illegally.

After a government counsel said ByteDance owed the authorities about 790 million rupees ($11 million), the High Court in Mumbai said the company will need to keep that amount blocked in a state-run bank.

That “account will be frozen”, the two-judge bench said.

ByteDance acquires gaming studio Moonton at around $4 billion valuation: Sources

(Reuters) – ByteDance said on Monday its video games unit Nuverse has agreed to acquire Shanghai-based gaming studio Moonton Technology, as it seeks to further expand into the video games business.

The deal values the gaming studio at around $4 billion, two sources told Reuters.

The acquisition of the video games studio come as ByteDance, the owner of TikTok and the similar Chinese short video platform Douyin, has made sizeable inroads into the video games business, putting it in direct competition with China’s Tencent.

“Through cross-team collaboration and drawing on lessons and insights from its own rapid growth, Moonton provides the strategic support needed to accelerate Nuverse’s global gaming offerings,” ByteDance said in a statement, declining to comment on the size of the acquisition.

In an internal memo, Yuan Jing, CEO of Moonton, said the company would operate independently from ByteDance after the acquisition, a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the press.

Moonton Technology, founded by an ex-Tencent employee, is most famous in Southeast Asia for its multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game Mobile Legends.

Tencent, China’s biggest video games and social media company, made a bidding for Moonton but the offer was matched by ByteDance last week, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

When contacted by Reuters, Tencent said it does not comment on market speculation.

The acquisition means ByteDance now has a MOBA game under its belt that could compete with Tencent’s Honor of Kings and League of Legends, both a cash cow for Tencent.

Since 2017, Tencent and Riot Games have filed multiple lawsuits against Moonton for what they say was copyright infringement.

ByteDance team to develop AI chips as China aims for self-reliance

(Reuters) – Chinese TikTok-owner ByteDance is making plans to develop semiconductors, according to the company’s job postings and a source familiar with the situation.

The plan is still at an early stage and the company’s focus is on Arm-based server-side chips, the person told Reuters.

Beijing-based ByteDance has posted a dozen semiconductor-related job advertisements on its official website, based mainly in Beijing and Shanghai.

The company has established a team to explore the development of artificial intelligence chips, ByteDance told Chinese business magazine Caijing.

ByteDance did not offer immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

Chinese technology giants are stepping up efforts to design their own chips in a sign of China’s ambitions to reduce its dependence on foreign producers such as Qualcomm Inc and Nvidia Corp.

U.S. sanctions imposed on hardware maker Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd have prevented the Chinese telecom giant from sourcing components including semiconductors, crippling its smartphone business.

China is the world’s largest purchaser of semiconductors but its ability to produce chips domestically lags behind the United States, Japan and South Korea.

According to research firm ICInsights, of the $143 billion in chips sold in China in 2020, only $22.7 billion worth were produced in China, and only $8.3 billion was produced by Chinese-headquartered companies.

Chinese search engine giant Baidu has completed a round of financing for its Kunlun AI chip unit, which values the unit at around $2 billion, Reuters reported on Monday

Baidu is also considering making the unit a standalone company to commercialise its chip design capabilities.

Alibaba Group, China’s e-commerce giant, unveiled an AI chip for its cloud computing products in late 2019.

China’s AI unicorn SenseTime started work on developing homegrown AI chips after being added to a U.S. trade list by Washington in 2019, Reuters has reported.

ByteDance developing Clubhouse-like app for China amid copycat rush – Sources

(Reuters) – TikTok owner ByteDance is working on a Clubhouse-like app for China, sources familiar with the matter said, as the global success of the U.S.-based audio chat service inspires a rush of copycats in the country.

At least a dozen similar apps have been launched in the past month, with momentum picking up after Clubhouse was blocked in China in early February. Clubhouse had seen a surge in users who participated in discussions on sensitive topics such as Xinjiang detention camps and Hong Kong independence.

New offerings include Xiaomi Corp’s reworking of its Mi Talk app into an invitation-only audio service targeted at professionals last week. More are currently under development, industry executives say.

ByteDance’s plans are still in the early stages, said two sources who were not authorised to speak to media and declined to be identified.

Discussions about TikTok and ByteDance on Clubhouse had prompted interest in the genre from ByteDance executives including CEO Zhang Yiming, said one of the sources.

ByteDance declined to comment.

The success of Clubhouse, which can host up to 8,000 people per chat room and has seen a discussion between Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev boost user numbers, has rammed home the potential of audio chat services.

But similar apps in China are expected to take on Chinese characteristics that will accommodate censorship and government oversight.

One such example is Nasdaq-listed Lizhi Inc’s Zhiya app which was launched in 2013 and whose users usually talk about video games or sing songs.

The app requires real name registration, a trait Lizhi CEO Marco Lai says is key in China. The company also employs staff to listen to conversations in every room and deploys artificial intelligence tools to weed out “unwanted” content, such as pornography or politically sensitive issues.

The app was briefly taken down by Chinese regulators in 2019, but reinstated after Lizhi made rectifications.

Lizhi’s Lai said that outside of politics there was plenty of room for audio chat apps in China.

“Adults in China do not like to express their views in public, we have been taught to keep a low profile since we were young,” he said. “A good approach in China, though, is entertainment, you invite everybody to have fun.”

Some new entrants to the market have had hiccups.

Inke Ltd, best known for its livestreaming platform, launched a similar app, Duihuaba, this month that recruited venture capitalists, fashion critics and other celebrities to host conversations.

However, it abruptly pulled the app two weeks after its debut, saying that it needed further improvements without elaborating.

By: Yingzhi Yang, Pei Li, Brenda Goh

ByteDance agrees to $92 million privacy settlement with U.S. TikTok users

ByteDance has agreed to a $92 million class-action settlement to settle data privacy claims from some U.S. TikTok users, according to documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Illinois.

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the short video app TikTok that has more than 100 million U.S. users, agreed to the settlement after more than a year of litigation.

“While we disagree with the assertions, rather than go through lengthy litigation, we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community,” TikTok said Thursday. The settlement still requires court approval.