China’s largest short-video platform Douyin on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Tencent for alleged monopolistic behavior, signaling an escalation of the rivalry between the two tech giants.
“We believe that competition is better for consumers and promotes innovation. We have filed this lawsuit to protect our rights and those of our users,” Douyin confirmed with KrASIA on Tuesday.
Douyin users currently cannot share video links directly on the WeChat Moment channel, but need instead take cumbersome manual steps to bypass the blocking. Posts from Tencent’s Weishi platform and Kuaishou, which counts Tencent as a key investor, can be easily shared on WeChat.
Tencent responded Tuesday, on its WeChat account, that multiple ByteDance products have collected personal data of WeChat users illegally, breaking the platform’s rule and have been demanded by the court to stop this infringement.
Duoyin argued, also via its official WeChat channel, that it should be the users who have the right to control their data, rather than the platform, and it shouldn’t be Tencent’s “private property.”
“It is still controversial whether user avatars and nicknames totally belong to users,” Zhao Baodong, a Shenzhen-based lawyer with Beijing DHH Law Firm, told KrASIA on Wednesday. By just banning Douyin, and not other video platforms, Tencent raises the suspicion that it abused its market dominance to exclude and restrict competition, he added.
“It remains to be seen in court whether Tencent’s argument of protecting user privacy is solid enough and how and to what degree the ban has affected user rights,” said Angela Zhang, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong. Zhang added that the court will need to determine whether Tencent has a monopoly position, something that the judges didn’t find back in 2011 in the case against Qihoo 360.
“Tencent’s motivation to block Douyin is more about protecting its own business and returns from its Kuaishou investment, rather than the safety of user data, or otherwise, it should not have opened its API to Douyin from the very beginning,” said Liu Xu, a researcher with the National Strategy Institute of the Tsinghua University.
It’s down to the judges
For Zhao, the main question is where the limit is for Tencent. “This needs to be clarified by the judicial authorities,” he said.
Han Wei, an associate professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that the lawsuit also raised another question. “The responses of both parties show the controversy on how the personal information of WeChat users should be handled, and this actually involves a conflict between data protection laws and anti-monopoly rules,” he told KrASIA.
“One advocates an open platform to promote competition, while the other does not allow companies to share information on grounds of strong personal data protection,” he explained. How to balance the two sides is a challenge that all countries are facing.