Tensions between Tencent and Toutiao grow amid lawsuits

Photo: tech.sina.com.cn

The battle between China's tech giant Tencent and the country's largest news aggregator Jinri Toutiao (Today's Headlines) has intensified after they sued each other for unfair competition and defamation on Friday.

Zhang Jun, Tencent's public relations director, accused Toutiao of inappropriate information dissemination practices.

He revealed that the aggregator had attributed an Internet article that condemned Tencent to state media Xinhua News Agency when it was posted on xinhuanet.com. The article said that online games harmed young people and children and that Tencent seemed to be indifferent to their negative effects.

The article, first published by xinhuanet.com, was pushed by Toutiao under its original headline.

Zhang said that the Xinhua News Agency had not reported on the effects of gaming, but the report focused on Tencent's new data center in Southwest China's Guizhou Province.

Toutiao quickly hit back with a lawsuit against Tencent claiming unfair competition. It demanded a public apology and 90 million yuan in compensation, according to court documents sent to Chinese media on Saturday.

"Tencent has been using a variety of excuses to block our content on their platforms, even using their security software to block and slander our products," a Toutiao public relations representative told reporters on Sunday.

"Tencent also deliberately disseminated fake news to attack Toutiao's video-sharing app Douyin (also known as Tik Tok), saying that the 'content is harmful to children', which is unacceptable" he added.

Tencent and Toutiao seem to have trouble getting along.

Last month, Tencent's CEO Pony Ma and Toutiao's CEO Zhang Yiming had an argument over Zhang's accusation that Tencent's video platform Weishi plagiarizes Douyin, shortly after Tencent blocked Douyin on its Wechat platform.

Analysts said that Tencent sees Toutiao as a direct threat to its business model.

"Tencent's strategy is to keep customers inside WeChat as long as possible, preventing them from leaving the app. Toutiao directly threatens that by attracting them to their news and video content apps," said Liu Dingding, a veteran industry analyst in Beijing.

"Toutiao is brave in confronting Tencent. Very likely it is backed by Alibaba, China's e-commerce giant which competes with Tencent in many fields," he added.

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