bytedance douyin monopolistic unfair tiktok tencent wechat
A webpage that warns users of "malicious" links on WeChat. (Image credit: TechNode)

Douyin, ByteDance’s Chinese version of TikTok, said on Tuesday it had sued Chinese social media giant Tencent for monopolistic behavior including blocking Douyin’s content on its WeChat and QQ instant-messaging apps.

Why it matters: The legal move comes as China tightens antitrust regulations for tech companies and refines its laws to better rein in the internet sector. While similar lawsuits had often resulted in a stalemate, it is believed that officials and judges will now be less tolerant of internet companies and anti-competitive behavior.

  • The lawsuit is also seen as a tactical move as Douyin’s biggest domestic rival, Tencent-backed short video platform Kuaishou, is preparing to list in Hong Kong.

READ MORE: China’s tech giants aren’t ‘immune’ to antitrust any more

Details: ByteDance has filed a lawsuit with the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, accusing Tencent of violating China’s Anti-Monopoly Law by restricting WeChat and QQ users from sharing Douyin’s short-video content, the company said on Tuesday.

  • Tencent’s practice, it said, ran afoul of the Anti-Monopoly Law’s provision of forbidding “misusing a market-dominant position, and antitrust behavior of excluding and restricting competition” (our translation).
  • ByteDance asked the court to require Tencent to cease such behavior and make a public apology. The Beijing-based firm is also seeking compensation of RMB 900 million (around $13.9 million) from Tencent.
  • There are no other operators that provide services that rival WeChat and QQ, ByteDance said, meaning that Tencent enjoys a “market-dominant position”—the threshold for citing the Anti-Monopoly Law in court.
  • Tencent said in a statement that ByteDance’s accusations were “false” and that the company will bring a countersuit.
  • Tencent said Douyin had acquired WeChat users’ personal information by “means of unfair competition” and had breached the platform’s rules.

Context: China has ramped up antitrust regulations in the tech industry in recent months. In December, the State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR), China’s top antitrust regulator, issued fines to Alibaba and affiliates of Tencent and logistics giant SF Express over three separate acquisition deals, a move that legal experts described as the country’s first batch of antitrust enforcements against tech firms.

  • SAMR had previously proposed an overhaul of the Anti-Monopoly Law in January and introduced a set of antitrust guidelines tailored for the internet industry in November.
  • In March, ByteDance complained that WeChat had started blocking links to its enterprise messaging app and productivity tool Feishu.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.