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ByteDance starts selling TikTok’s AI to other companies


ByteDance is selling some of the artificial-intelligence technology that powers its viral video app TikTok to websites and apps outside China, as it broadens its revenue streams ahead of a long-anticipated initial public offering.

A new division called BytePlus quietly launched in June and already lists customers all over the world, including in the US.

According to its website, early customers include Goat, the US-based fashion app; WeGo, a travel booking site in Singapore; and Chilibeli, an Indonesian online shopping start-up. TikTok is also listed among its customers.

BytePlus offers businesses the chance to tap some of TikTok’s secret ingredient: the algorithm that keeps users scrolling by recommending them videos that it thinks they will like. They can use this technology to personalise their apps and services for their customers.

Other software on offer includes automated translation of text and speech, real-time video effects and a suite of data analysis and management tools.

Its computer vision technology can detect and track 18 points around the body from head to feet as users dance or gesture in front of the camera, which BytePlus suggests could be used for beauty or fashion apps.

The new unit has recruited staff in Singapore, its main hub, as well as London and Hong Kong, from enterprise technology companies including Microsoft and IBM, according to employees’ LinkedIn profiles.

Tianyi He, a six-year ByteDance veteran who graduated in computer science from Tianjin University in 2014, is listed on LinkedIn as head of BytePlus in Singapore since June. A 15-second promotional video, entitled “Hello, World!” was posted to LinkedIn last month.

BytePlus’s toolset appears to compete with AI services from the likes of Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM and Microsoft, as well as other Chinese groups such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent.

The international debut of BytePlus follows the launch of a similar business-to-business service in China. Volcano Engine, or Volcengine, counts JD.com, Vivo and Geely among its customers.

ByteDance’s first enterprise product, a corporate collaboration app called Lark, launched in 2019, as an alternative to Slack or Microsoft’s Teams. Its deeper push into corporate technology comes as the rapid growth of TikTok and its Chinese incarnation, Douyin, threatens to reach a ceiling, as online audiences saturate. ByteDance is testing a range of new products to diversify away from TikTok, both inside China and internationally, including mobile games and video-editing apps.

Online records suggest that ByteDance has sought to register trademarks associated with both BytePlus and Volcano Engine in the US, although it is unclear whether the company has opened an office there yet.

BytePlus’s privacy policy suggests that the business is incorporated separately to TikTok in the UK and Europe. In the UK, it points to its designated GDPR representative as Cosmo Technology Private Limited, while in Europe the organisation responsible is Dublin-based Mikros Information Technology Ireland Limited.

Cosmo and Mikros were registered as new companies in February and March of this year respectively. Filings at the UK and Irish company registries do not make overt reference to BytePlus or its shared parentage with TikTok, although ByteDance’s founder Zhang Yiming is listed as a “person with significant control” at Cosmo.

ByteDance declined to comment on its plans for BytePlus.


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