ByteDance initiates talks to sell TikTok’s India assets

India’s repeated rejection of short-video app TikTok’s attempts to resume operations in the country is making ByteDance jittery now. The parent company is reportedly in talks to sell off its local assets in the country and pare its losses. We had reported on Tiktok’s move late in January, though nothing actually fructified then. 

According to published reports, ByteDance is holding discussions with the team at Glance, an Indian version of TikTok, that is backed by the SoftBank-led InMobi. No details are available yet around the discussion. The only thing that we know for a fact is the federal government is in no mood to allow TikTok to resume. 

A Bloomberg report says the latest attempt to sell TikTok’s Indian assets has been initiated by Japan’s SoftBank itself, given that they have backed not only InMobi, which funded Glance, but also ByteDance. The report says there are four parties to the discussion, three of which relates to SoftBank’s clients and the fourth being the government of India. 

The administration in New Delhi had banned several apps with a Chinese connection following India’s border skirmish with its neighbour in mid-2020. TikTok made many attempts to return, given that India was one of its largest markets, even attempting to join hands with Indian prospects that included Reliance Jio among others.

How India and China may react to the move

While the report did not elaborate whether ByteDance or Glance share their inputs, the fact remains that even if the talks do proceed to a favourable conclusion, it will still require a seal of approval from the federal government. 

This relates to India insisting on keeping user data and technology of the application within the country, a pre-condition that the Narendra Modi government has been taking trouble to spread in the world of technology-enabled business processes. 

Of course, there is also the additional challenge from Beijing, which has initiated new rules around export of technology. So, any sale of TikTok would require a sign-off from the relevant Chinese departments. If India’s regulations didn’t make it tough, the ones from China is definitely going to be a crucial aspect in any negotiations. 

What makes Glance a good suitor?

Things began moving south for TikTok since last summer when despite having over 200 million users in India, the app got banned over New Delhi’s threat perception on user data being utilised by Chinese apps. Just last month, the government reiterated that the ban would be permanent, following which ByteDance began laying off a big chunk of its staff in the country. 

Meanwhile, Glance Digital, started-up by Harvard alumnus Naveen Tiwari, who also founded India’s first unicorn InMobi, has been making news in recent times. More so since it received funding worth $140 million from Google late last year, a move that was considered to be a masterstroke by the Internet giant. 

The short-video sharing platform created by Glance saw sharp growth post the ban on TikTok. In its 20-month journey, the platform named Roposo received funding from billionaire Peter Theil’s Mithril Capital, and currently boasts of a user base in excess of 130 million.  

Of course, the deal would see the Indian suitor driving a hard bargain, though its actual conclusion may depend on how the governments in Beijing and New Delhi react to it. 

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