ByteDance in talks to sell its Indian TikTok assets

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Updated: February 13, 2021 2:39 PM

India banned thousands of Chinese apps including TikTok last year following intense hostility on the India-China border.

tiktokThe next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

ByteDance Ltd. is said to be exploring a sale of the India operations of TikTok to rival unicorn Glance, in an attempt to resuscitate the once-thriving short video sharing app that’s been banned indefinitely in the South Asian nation.

The discussions have been initiated by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. conglomerate, according to people familiar with the talks, who declined to be identified because the talks are private as well as early and complex. SoftBank is a backer of Glance’s parent InMobi Pte as well as TikTok’s Chinese parent, ByteDance.

The discussions involve four sides, the people said. The talks are between SoftBank, ByteDance and Glance and any deal will need a final seal of approval from Indian authorities. India banned thousands of Chinese apps including TikTok last year following intense hostility on the India-China border.

SoftBank and ByteDance didn’t respond to emails seeking comment outside of business hours. A Glance spokesman declined to comment.

SoftBank has been attempting to salvage TikTok’s India assets and had been hunting for local partners even as the new U.S. administration put on hold the unwinding of the American operations of the popular short video platform, asking a federal judge to pause a lawsuit after former President Donald Trump banned it.

If the talks progress, the Indian government will insist that user data and technology of TikTok stay within its borders, said the people familiar. That’s because relations between New Delhi and Beijing remain strained, and India will make no allowances for China-based technology companies, they said. China’s new rules around export of technology make the negotiations even more intricate, and any sale of TikTok could need approval from Chinese authorities.

The dramatic reversal in TikTok’s fortunes came last summer after the app had hit over 200 million users in India, its biggest market. The Indian government cited threats to its sovereignty and security to outlaw a slew of Chinese apps such as the artificial intelligence-powered TikTok, and last month indicated the ban was permanent. ByteDance then started unwinding its local operations, firing hundreds of Indian employees, many of whom have since gravitated to homegrown rivals.

TikTok’s potential partner, Bangalore-headquartered Glance Digital Experience is a mobile content platform started by Harvard Business School alum Naveen Tewari. He is the founder of InMobi, India’s first unicorn. Glance’s short video sharing platform — 20-month-old Roposo — saw a massive growth spurt after the TikTok ban, and it became a unicorn in December after a funding round by Google Inc. and billionaire Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital.

Dozens of short video app rivals mushroomed in India after the TikTok ban, which accelerated Glance and Roposo’s growth and pushed the user base to over 130 million.

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