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Chinese Social Media Apps & International eDiscovery

Sally Hu 08 / 04 / 20

Litigators these days must understand social media – and no understanding of social media today is complete without an understanding of how they work on the international stage. The world is increasingly connected across borders – but the way data crosses borders is governed by a complex and interdependent set of legal and technical processes that all lawyers – especially those within multinational organizations or whose clients are multinational organizations – would do well to understand more deeply.

China, in particular, serves as an instructive example of how one country’s laws can govern how users interact with ordinary social media applications (apps); where the data they upload and view on said apps reside; and where and how that data can be viewed (or reviewed, as in the case of electronic discovery for litigation or regulatory inquiry).

TikTok, Douyin, and international law: The social media platform at the center of it all

TikTok – the Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company – is used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos and has quickly risen to prominence since its launch outside of China in 2017. In just a few years, it has become one of the world’s most downloaded apps, with more than 1.5 billion downloads on the App Store and Google Play in 2019.

Just one week after the Hong Kong national security law officially took effect in Hong Kong, the world’s most valuable startup – ByteDance – stopped operations of the TikTok App in Hong Kong, pulling the app from mobile Hong Kong stores.

Does this mean TikTok is gone from Hong Kong?

The answer is no. TikTok has a twin version in Mainland China called Douyin. The CEO from ByteDance said: “Douyin has lots of users in Hong Kong and will continue to serve the users there.” Also, if users change your iTunes account region to Mainland China, you can use Douyin in Hong Kong.

Corporate litigators, compliance officers, and privacy professionals must understand the nuances of swiftly evolving social media whenever conducting discovery across borders.

Is there any functional difference between TikTok and Douyin?

Yes, even though they share a lot of functions on creating and editing short videos, as well as livestreams, Douyin launched a new in-video search function late last year, which is currently not available on TikTok.

This function allows users to highlight an object within a video and perform a search for that item. Then it will also show the links where users can purchase the item from online stores if they are interested. Without a doubt, the ability to search within a video will bring a significantly benefit the associated brand or influencer’s marketing.

Similarly, this feature also works for searching people’s faces within a video, which has been the subject of many debates about online and offline privacy.

Corporate litigators, corporate compliance officers, and privacy professionals must understand these nuances whenever conducting data discovery across borders in order to be prepared for handling unique image and video data types that may be present in a given data set for processing. It’s important to be equipped to handle these specialized data types if and when they come up.

What are the differences between WeChat and Weixin?

Similar to Douyin and TikTok, the “super app” WeChat also has a mainland-China based version – called Weixin. Many people may think they are the same, but in fact it’s not entirely so.

WeChat and Weixin use different servers – thus, the data of official accounts on WeChat and Weixin are stored in different places. Therefore, when you search some official accounts, it may generate different search results.

The biggest difference is their “Wallet” system: WeChat and Weixin depend on different third-party payment systems. Even though WeChat Pay HK was launched in 2016, it is still not as popular as in Mainland China. Also, with the exception of Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Africa, other WeChat overseas users don’t have the wallet function shown in the WeChat interface.

Data collection, analysis, and processing of complex international social media data

As a “Super App” in Mainland China, we have seen our clients coming to Legility more and more with legal matters that require the collection and analysis of WeChat data. We have a data processing tool called Structured Data Reader (SDR) which produces distinct, readable, user-friendly output from these complex, often multimedia data types. It helps save client significant time and money.

Structured Data Reader processes all document and server formats, then simplifies output of all data into one reviewable HTML file. It also visually highlights individual chats within a thread, allowing reviewers to locate information more quickly. Besides WeChat, it also works for other messaging platforms, such as Facebook messaging, Skype, Bloomberg chat terminals, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and so on.

Social media and international eDiscovery

While TikTok’s withdrawal from Hong Kong raises a lot of questions about social media platforms in Hong Kong, Hong Kong remains an important financial gateway for China to connect the rest of the world, so it’s still too soon to tell what the implications will be for international data transfer and legal operations in the region.

Legility is a legal services company providing data hosting and management, technology-enabled services, consulting, flexible legal talent, and managed review services to in-house law departments and law firms. Legility is not, and none of its affiliates are, a law firm and does not provide legal advice as part of its services and nothing contained herein should be construed as such.

Learn how to normalize weird data - from Bloomberg chats and Slack messages to WeChat data.

About the author

Sally Hu
Sally Hu

Sally Hu is a consultant at Legility, with more than five years of experience in the eDiscovery and forensic computing fields. She provides excellent project management guidance throughout the lifecycle of eDiscovery matters, and has managed several cross-border litigations and regulatory investigations. She's a Relativity Certified Administrator, Relativity Analytics Specialist, and Encase Certified Examiner.

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