ByteDance gets TikTok creator to head up investment unit
Alex Zhu, who has said he would turn down even Xi Jinping’s personal request for TikTok’s user data, will search for the company’s next big app
Hong Kong — TikTok’s co-creator and former chief will oversee ByteDance’s investment arm, heading up the search for the company’s next breakthrough app and stepping further away from the viral video sensation that’s been caught in the crosshairs of US-China tensions.
Alex Zhu — who previously led the world’s most successful Chinese-made app — is now in charge of ByteDance’s strategy, investment and product design, the company said in a statement. In May, ByteDance hired Walt Disney’s former streaming tsar Kevin Mayer as TikTok’s new global CEO and said Zhu will transition to a new role as vice-president of product and strategy.
Zhu’s new role in leading ByteDance’s equity deals and content acquisitions comes as the company grows its business at home while it fights increasing global scrutiny of TikTok. The Trump administration is mulling a ban on TikTok, while India has already prohibited its use in a wide-ranging ban of Chinese apps that includes Tencent Holdings’s WeChat.
TikTok also stopped providing services to users in Hong Kong, after Beijing passed a sweeping national security law giving police more control over the city’s online and public spheres.
ByteDance has repeatedly denied it shares user information with Beijing and has sought to distance TikTok from its Chinese roots. Hiring Mayer is one of the steps the Beijing-based company has taken to assuage international concerns.
A former SAP employee researching education software, Zhu co-founded the lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2014, which was later acquired by ByteDance for $800m and merged into the TikTok app. In a November interview with the New York Times, the Zhu said he would turn down even Chinese President Xi Jinping’s personal request to access TikTok’s user data.
In his new role, Zhu will help ByteDance build up content for its family of apps. including TikTok’s Chinese twin service Douyin and news aggregator Toutiao. The company has said it has about 1.5-billion monthly active users across its products. It also competes with local internet leaders Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent in buying up the country’s hottest tech start-ups.
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