Beijing-based ByteDance is moving beyond its core businesses in news and video and into work-place messaging and music streaming, competing with Tencent and other Chinese tech firms.
The domain for the new search engine, Toutiao Search, sits within the company’s flagship product – Chinese news aggregator Jinri Toutiao.
ByteDance, which according to sources familiar with the matter was valued at $78 billion in its last financing round in 2018, declined to comment.
The company said on social media last month it was looking to hire people to work with its search engine team, and had hired technical experts from Google, Baidu and Bing.
It said the search engine would offer content from ByteDance-owned apps, including Jinri Toutiao and the Chinese version of TikTok, as well as the wider web. Toutiao Search offers censored results like other Chinese search engines, according to searches conducted by Reuters.
A search for “June Fourth”, a term associated with the violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, the search engine showed results from the People’s Daily and other official news websites.
Baidu has been the dominant search engine in China since 2010, when US search engine giant Google retreated from the Chinese market after it declined to comply with a government request to filter its search results.
Baidu in 2018 accounted for 66 per cent of desktop searches and 71per cent of mobile searches in China, according to market researcher StatCounter. Baidu, which reported its first quarterly loss in May since its 2018 initial public offering, has shrugged off the threat from ByteDance.
“We have estimated that there are about two new players emerging in the search engine market each year,” Ping Xiaoli, general manager of Baidu App, told reporters last week when asked about Bytedance’s search engine. “We have been dominating the market over the past two decades,” Ping added.