Oct 17, 2019 08:55 PM

After Coming Under Fire in U.S., TikTok Hires Local Law Firm for Policy Advice

TikTok has been one of China’s biggest overseas success stories for an internet firm. Photo: IC Photo
TikTok has been one of China’s biggest overseas success stories for an internet firm. Photo: IC Photo

TikTok, the international version of a popular short video app owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has hired a major U.S. law firm to advise it on policy, a week after a Washington politician called for re-examination of a previous company acquisition due to its content policing policies.

The company, whose domestic Chinese short video service goes by the name of Douyin, said its new team of advisers from the law firm of K&L Gates will include two former congressmen, Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham, according to a statement released in the U.S. on Tuesday. The outside group will consult with the company on its content management policy and provide legal support.

Chinese internet companies have come under scrutiny in the West for data protection policies that are often seen as laxer than more developed countries. Some experts have also raised concerns that Chinese internet companies may use similar standards for reviewing content as those seen in China, where services are required to self-police themselves for and remove and politically sensitive material.

“These outside experts will work closely with the internal management team to examine issues like child safety, hate speech, misinformation and cyber-bullying and provide suggestions,” TikTok said in a statement announcing the move. “At the same time they will help to execute and audit protection policies and community practices and further improve transparency.”

TikTok has been one of China’s biggest overseas success stories for an internet firm. It sharply boosted its international presence through its 2017 purchase of short music video service in 2017 for nearly $1 billion. The deal closed last year and was shut down by a short time later by ByteDance, which transferred all of the users to its own TikTok-branded service.

One expert cited by the Financial Times pointed out that the global TikTok appeared to be following some of its China-based practices by filtering out politically sensitive content, pointing to a recent case involving controversial remarks made by a NBA team general manager.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said in a tweet that he would call on U.S. regulators to examine the acquisition over such concerns.

TikTok’s decision to hire a locally-based content policy advisor was designed to help it comply with local oversight requirements, said Shanghai-based lawyer Liu Chunquan. He added that the law firm will act as an important outside, independent consultant to help TikTok ensure that its practices conform with local laws, and can also assist in any litigation.

According to ByteDance, TikTok is now in available in more than 150 countries and regions worldwide and had more than 500 million users. But the company has also previously been fined in other countries due to its relatively lax content review policies. In 2018 the service was suspended in Indonesia for content violations, and was only allowed to resume after cleaning up the problems.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (; twitter: @youngchinabiz)

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