China’s TikTok passes 1bn global downloads

, the popular short video app owned by ByteDance has passed 1bn across the world, turning the Chinese newcomer into a rival to Instagram and Facebook.

Sensor Tower, a US company that tracks apps, said TikTok was downloaded 663m times last year from Apple's App store and the Google Play store. This was behind Facebook's 771m downloads but ahead of Instagram's 444m.

TikTok's total number includes an estimated 136.3m App Store downloads in China, where the US social media platforms are blocked.

The app's super-short videos, of everything from make-up tips and amateur dancing to basketball, often set to catchy music, quickly went viral in China before then catching on elsewhere.

But its rapid growth has now seen it run into regulatory trouble at home and abroad. Last week it was fined a record $5.7m by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly illegally collecting personal information from children.

In China it has come under attack for its inappropriate content; after one clampdown last year founder and chief executive Zhang Yiming vowed to increase the number of censors from 6,000 to 10,000. He also issued a letter of apology in which he promised to adhere to socialist values.

“Scaling content moderation along the app's rapid growth will pose a significant challenge and how it's handled will determine if it can retain advertisers,” said Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower.

ByteDance, which also owns news aggregator app Toutiao, has been rapidly recruiting staff, including in the US, and rivals estimate it now has 50,000. Bytedance does not disclose employee numbers. That would put it comfortably ahead of Facebook (35,587) and Tencent's workforce of 48,864 at the end of June.

The Beijing-based company is backed by SoftBank but, unusually for a tech start-up, has no funding from the twin Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent. At its last funding round it was valued at $75bn.

Its snappy videos are hugely addictive, attributed by some to its clever algorithm. But others say its selling point is its mainly user-generated content.

“What it tells me is ByteDance is less of a tech company but more of a content creative company because they have figured out what the hook is that will really attract viewers,” said one rival executive who confesses to bingewatching the videos.

“By contrast Instagram is just a broadcaster.”

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