According to four former employees of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, the company scraped short-form videos, usernames, profile pictures, and profile descriptions from Instagram, Snapchat, and other sources in 2017 and then uploaded them to Flipagram, a TikTok predecessor, without users’ knowledge or consent.
The internal documents of the ‘Source’ contain references to the scraped data as well as explanations for why the company did so. An employee indicated in one document that the collected content might be used to see what kinds of videos performed well on the site. Current users might potentially use the content to improve their own movies and acquire popularity, according to the employee of the source leaked the news.
“ByteDance acquired Flipagram in 2017 and operated it, as well as Vigo, for a brief period,” said Jennifer Banks, a representative for ByteDance. Flipagram and Vigo have been dead for years and are no longer associated with any ByteDance products.”
The technique of scraping content as a growth hack, as claimed in this report, was not uncommon for services at the time. However, it raises the question of whether TikTok’s algorithms were trained on video footage from other apps.
ByteDance was created by Zhang Yiming in March 2012, and company is well recognised for its entertaining smartphone apps. It competes with other Chinese tech behemoths such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.