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Google’s “Roundabout Return” to the Mainland

Many netizens are hoping for a Google Search comeback.

Ryan Gandolfo

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Since its disappearance from China, Google is making new moves into the Chinese market. Chinese ‘Google Fans’ are hoping for a return of Google’s search engine.

It has been eight years since Google was shut down in China after it refused to comply with government requests to filter its search results. Recently, several high-profile investments in Chinese companies reveal that Google is formulating a creative strategy to re-enter the Chinese market.

That ‘creative strategy’ is described as “qūxiàn rùhuá (曲线入华) by Chinese media (e.g. Sohu), literally meaning “a roundabout way to enter China.”

 

Strategic Partnerships in China

 

An important part of Google’s China strategy is its investment in Chinese tech companies. On June 18th, Google announced its $550 million dollar investment into JD.com (京东), one of China’s leading e-commerce platforms.

It is not Google’s first strategic partnership in China. Over the past three years, Google has invested billions of dollars in five Chinese firms, including internet powerhouse Tencent. The company recently also partnered up with Chinese smartphone manufacturers Huawei and Xiaomi.

Google’s Augmented Reality (AR) “ARCore” app technology is now available in China via Xiaomi, and the US company will also work on a new standard of mobile phone messaging with Huawei.

These partnerships have dismayed American lawmakers, who have expressed concerns about Google’s collaboration with these firms, suggesting they could pose a risk to U.S. national security and American consumers.

 

Focus on Artificial Intellegence

 

One crucial part of Google’s “roundabout return” to China, as also described by Bloomberg in 2017, is its focus on artificial intelligence (AI).

The company today still employs hundreds of workers around China, and many of these jobs are now focused on the training and developing of AI technologies. In December 2017, Google also announced their plan to build an AI research center in Beijing, which has attracted top AI engineering talent from around China.

These kinds of initiatives and partnerships are win-win situations; Google helps Chinese companies to get their products to countries outside of China, while these Chinese companies help Google to grow its influence in the Chinese market.

Many Chinese internet users are happy about Google expanding its services in China again. True ‘Google fans’ (谷歌粉丝) even created a website named ‘Google-CH.com’ earlier this year, mirroring the search engine. Although it was taken offline shortly afterward, Weibo users still express their hopes to have Google back as their go-to search platform, especially because many are not too happy with the current leading search sites, such as Baidu or Sogou.

 

“Don’t make a roundabout, come back straight away!”

 

“I really look forward to Google returning, Baidu Search is garbage,” one commenter stated. With almost 60% of search engine traffic, Baidu currently holds a major market share in China’s internet searches.

But the company is not popular with many netizens, especially since its involvement with the fraudulent Putian Medical Group triggered controversy in 2016. “Come back here, we don’t have search engines that are good to use!”, a typical comment on Weibo said: “At least Google is more reliable.”

Other netizens also discuss other Google apps they would like to see come back. As one commenter wrote: “If Google search and videos don’t come back right away, please at least bring back Google docs!”

Currently, Google has two active apps in China on third-party app stores; Google Translate and Files Go. Its many other popular services, such as Gmail, Google Play, and Search Engine, are yet unlikely to make a return to the mainland.

“Google, don’t make a roundabout comeback,” one netizen stated: “Just come back straight away.”

By Ryan Gandolfo

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Ryan Gandolfo is an Economics graduate from Miami who has worked and lived in Shanghai, Baoding, and Guangzhou. He is interested in China's growing role in the global economy and closely follows the development of major Chinese technology firms. 

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China Digital

Are Douyin and TikTok the Same?

China’s popular “Douyin” app is known as “TikTok” in markets outside of China. But is it really one app?

Gabi Verberg

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TikTok, known as the international version of the Chinese successful short video app Douyin, is a global hit. Despite Bytedance’s efforts to present Douyin and TikTok as being the same product, they are actually two separate entities.

Douyin, (抖音, literally “shaking sound” in Chinese) is a short video media app owned by China’s young tech giant Bytedance (字节跳动). The app allows users to create, edit, and share short videos as well as livestreams, often featuring music in the background.

Douyin’s international name is TikTok, an app that looks the same as Douyin, while in fact, the two are not one and the same, despite Bytedance’s efforts to brand it as such.

This is not the first time a Chinese tech company presents one app as being the same everywhere, while it actually is not. Tencent’s super app Weixin (微信), also known as WeChat, runs two different systems for its Chinese and international version, as explained here.

When downloading either WeChat or Weixin, both being the same app, the app determines what features you can use and what information you can see based on the telephone number you register your account with.

In practice, this means that when you are a non-Chinese resident, you will be using the ‘international version,’ meaning you will have access to (international-specific) content that a user registered with a Chinese telephone number will not be able to see. The overseas version also does not have the same Wallet functions the Chinese version has.

 

Two apps, two systems

 

The difference between WeChat vs Weixin and TikTok vs Douyin, however, is not the same. Whereas the first is basically one app with two different modes, Douyin and TikTok are two completely separate entities.

Depending on the app store you use, you will either be able to download Douyin or TikTok. Users of Chinese app stores can only find Douyin, whereas users of the overseas Apple store or Google Play will only find TikTok available for download.

That the apps are actually separate systems becomes clear when running the same search words in both apps. As shown below, both apps provide different content for the same search words.

Left image: TikTok, Right image: Douyin.

For example, one of TikTok’s most popular channels of this moment is called ‘LisaandLena,’ a verified account by two German twins which has over 32 million fans. However, when you enter ‘LisaandLena’ in Douyin, the only result is an unverfied account which only has 102 fans and shows seven videos.

Results are the same the other way around. One of Douyin’s most popular accounts is that of Chinese actor Chen He (陈赫), who has over 52 million fans features 62 videos at this week. However, when running the same name search in TikTok, several unverified accounts come up, all showing some similar videos like those on Chen He’s Douyin account.

Top left picture: Douyin; top right and two bottom pictures: TikTok.

This suggests that, although Tiktok and Douyin have the same functions, layout, and logos, its users in China and overseas are kept completely separate and are not able to interact with eachother, something that a recent Chinese blog also discusses in detail.

 

The Rise of Douyin and TikTok

 

Ever since its launch in September 2016, Douyin has grown immensely popular. Just one year after its release, Douyin had more than 100 million users and became the second most downloaded app in the Chinese Apple store.

In September 2017, ByteDance took its app overseas; branding Douyin as TikTok for the international market, while keeping the app’s original name, Douyin, for its Chinese market.

Similar to Douyin, TikTok appeared to strike the right chord among internet users right away. In the first quarter of 2018 (note: within half a year after release), TikTok was the 6th most downloaded non-game app in the Apple app store and Google play store combined. In the Apple app store, it was even the most downloaded app. With its 45,8 downloads in the first quarter, TikTok beat apps such as Facebook, Youtube, or Instagram in the popularity rankings.

But that is not where TikTok’s short-video craze halted. In August 2018, TikTok merged with short video app Musical.ly (founded in 2014), that had over 100 million monthly active users at the time. In October last year, after receiving several investments, ByteDance Ltd. officially became the worlds most valuable private start-up, valued at 75 billion dollars.

By summer, ByteDance announced that TikTok, (meaning both apps combined) had more than 500 million monthly active users worldwide. About 300 million of these 500 million monthly active users are China’s domestic users.

 

Why does ByteDance separate Douyin and TikTok?

 

Why would Bytedance go through the effort to create two apps running on different systems? The answer partly lies in China’s strictly controlled online environment, where (social) media companies have to adhere to local policies on what is and what is not allowed to be published on their (user-generated) platforms.

In 2018, Bytedance was already criticized by authorities for hosting ‘inappropriate content’ on its news platform Jinri Toutiao. The joke app Neihan Duanzi, also run by Bytedance, was forced to shut down. Afterward, the company vowed to hire 4,000 additional censors, clearly not taking any risks in getting more warnings from authorities.

By separating Tiktok from Douyin, ByteDance can closely regulate the contents uploaded to Douyin, as they will be disseminated within China, while leaving overseas TikTok and its users relatively free to share whatever content they want to share (do note that the app also set up a team of 20 censors in Indonesia to monitor and ‘sanitize’ content from the platform there, after receiving complaints from Indonesian authorities).

 
New regulations for online video content
 

In light of tighter control on online video platforms, it seems that Bytedance’s monitoring team will have to work around the clock. On January 9, China’s Netcasting Services Association (中国网络视听节目服务协会), an association directly managed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, issued new regulations that online short video platforms in China should adhere to. One of the new guidelines requires all online video service providers to carefully examine content before it is published.

Tech Sina reports that the new stipulations require that all online video content, from titles to comments and even the use of emoticons, has to be in accordance with regulations, which prohibit any content that is ‘vulgar,’ is offending to the Chinese political system, puts revolutionary leaders in a negative light, or undermines social stability in any way.

On Weibo, the newest regulations became a topic of discussion, with many netizens wondering how short video apps such as Douyin are going to comply, and how its users will be affected.

Although Douyin has not responded to how and if its platform will change in light of the latest regulations, we can expect that TikTok will not be affected – it will be marching to the beat of his own app.

By Gabi Verberg, with contributions by Manya Koetse

Interested to know more about Bytedance and TikTok? We recommend listening to this podcast by Techbuzz China.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

Alipay Changes Name to Hanbao (But for Users, Nothing Will Change)

Alipay, oh, Alipay, wherefore art thou Hanbao now?

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First published .

What’s in a name? That which we call Alipay, by any other name would do the trick. But although the title has changed, nothing will change for Alipay users.

On January 8, news that Alibaba’s online payment platform ‘Alipay’ (Zhifubao 支付宝) changed its official name to Hanbao (瀚宝), became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media. The hashtag ‘Zhifubao Company Changes Name’ (#支付宝公司更名#) received millions of views on Tuesday, reaching over 30 million by Tuesday night.

Zhifubao (支付宝) is the Chinese name for the country’s leading mobile and online payment app. The brand ‘Zhifubao’ literally means ‘payment treasure.’ Outside of China, Zhifubao is known by its English name ‘Alipay.’

Alipay is operated by the Ant Financial Services Group (蚂蚁金服), an affiliate company of Alibaba.

The name change was reportedly registered for the ‘Zhifubao (China) Information Technology Company’ (支付宝[中国]信息技术有限公司), that changed into ‘Hanbao (Shanghai) Information Technology Company’ (瀚宝[上海]信息技术有限公司), just as ‘Alipay China Holding Limited’ has been changed to ‘Hanbao China Holding Limited.’

The name change was registered on December 18th of 2018. The legal ownership of the company has also been changed from Ma Yun (Jack Ma) to Ye Yuqing (叶郁青), who is the Ant Financial Chairman. Yicai Global already reported about a change to Alipay’s legal entity in the summer of 2018.

In October of 2018, the Financial Times reported that Jack Ma had quietly relinquished his ownership of the legal entities at the heart of Alibaba, after announcing he would retire as Alibaba’s chairman.

The Alipay company responded to the commotion, saying that the name change is just an “administrative matter” that will not affect consumers using the app in any way.

On Weibo, however, not everyone is happy with the change. “I owe Jack Ma some money, why do I now need to return it to Ye Yuqing?” one commenter wonders. Many others say similar things, jokingly saying they now no longer owe Jack Ma money. The Alipay platform allows users to buy items with credit through their ‘Huabei’ loan tool.

“Is Jack Ma no longer looking after us?!”, others say. “Being legal representative and being a shareholder are two different things,” one Weibo user replies.

The fact that the ‘Hanbao’ name is pronounced the same way as ‘Hamburger’ (汉堡) in Mandarin is also a reason some people are mocking the name change. Some netizens wonder if ‘Alipay’ will now change into ‘Hanbaopay.’

In 2017, there was also some online commotion when it was announced that McDonald’s China would change its name from Maidanglao to Jin Gongmen (‘Golden Arches’). At the time, McDonald’s China also responded to its name change, saying that it was for “official certification” only.

Time has shown that indeed nothing changed; just as the McDonald’s hamburgers are still the same, Alipay’s official hamburger-sounding new name is unlikely to affect its payment convenience.

Read more: Insights into Sesame Credit & Top 5 Ways to Use a High Sesame Score

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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