The internet is no stranger to theft and deception, and this latest example from ByteDance is proof of that. In case you don’t know, that’s the company that owns TikTok. Well, according to BuzzFeed, ByteDance scraped the content, usernames, and profiles from thousands of social media accounts without the users’ knowledge.
Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to emulate a figure via social media. It gets even easier when the platform doesn’t have a verification program. This is something that gets people into trouble because if you can pass yourself off as a celebrity, you’ll be able to manipulate unsuspecting victims.
ByteDance scraped content from thousands of social media accounts
In this case, the unsuspecting victims are those who had their accounts stolen. Chinese company ByteDance owns TikTok and other platforms. Before TikTok dominated every corner of our lives, there was a video-sharing platform called Flipagram (also owned by ByteDance). It’s basically like a less developed version of TikTok.
A couple of former ByteDance employees came forth and revealed that, in order to boost Flipagram’s popularity, ByteDance scraped content from several social media platforms years back. It took content from platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Musica.ly (yes, it was THAT long ago).
The usernames, content, and profile pictures from those accounts were copied byte-for-byte over to ByteDance’s platform, and the creators didn’t even know. That’s a really terrible thing for several reasons. For starters, no one likes the thought of having an unknown account speak and post on their behalf. They have no control over what the account is doing to represent them.
Another bad thing is that, since the creators aren’t in charge of those accounts, they’re not getting any revenue from ByteDance. Basically, the company stole their identities and they aren’t seeing a cent from the whole thing.
So, why the scraping?
The report says that the scraping began soon after ByteDance acquired Flipagram. While it was used to inject a ton of content into the app, there was another reason. The employees say that it was to help train the “For You” Algorithm. This is the same one that powers TikTok.
The point of this was to appeal to American users. It seems that the company wanted to target the American demographic. However, according to three of the employees, that plan didn’t work really. That makes sense, as no one really knows about Flipagram in the States.
We know that the scraping started sometime in 2017, but we don’t know when it actually ended. Also, we don’t know if any entity has grounds to sue the company for these actions.