The Chinese billionaire behind teen phenomenon TikTok is a 36-year-old tech guru whose eye for youth trends and pioneering use of AI (artificial intelligence) has blasted the app to global success – while working hand-in-glove with censors to control content within China.
Zhang Yiming’s Beijing-based startup Bytedance owns TikTok, whose kaleidoscopic feeds of 15 to 60-second clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life.
Since launching in 2017, TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, according to US-based research agency Sensor Tower. It has huge followings in India, the US, Indonesia and elsewhere.
But its rise has raised security fears and last month two senior US senators called for a government review of the app, saying it could leave users vulnerable to spying by Beijing.
Bytedance, which Mr Zhang founded in 2012, prides itself on using AI to personalise newsfeeds according to users’ interests.