Chinese short-video-making app TikTok’s parent company ByteDance allegedly made fake accounts with content taken from Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms, a new report has claimed.
According to BuzzFeed News, the company then posted those fake accounts on popular mobile app Flipagram to grow further.
“The China-based company scraped public accounts and then duplicated them on Flipagram, a predecessor to TikTok, according to four former employees and documents viewed by BuzzFeed News,” the report said late on Monday.
Founded in 2013, Flipagram allowed users to create and share short videos as something of a TikTok precursor.
ByteDance allegedly took videos, usernames, pictures and more from the social media platforms and uploaded them to the app without users’ consent or knowledge.
Internal documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News indicate that the scraping was seen as a “growth hack” for the company.
According to the former employee, the team’s goal was to “scrape more than 10,000 videos a day in the highest priority countries”.
The scraped content was used to train ByteDance’s powerful “For You” personalisation algorithm on the US-based content.
“Today, the ‘For You’ algorithm powers both TikTok and its Chinese equivalent, Douyin,” the report noted.
The report also said that ByteDance was scraping and uploading content from Musical.ly, which would later become TikTok as ByteDance acquired the company in 2017.
In a statement, a ByteDance spokesperson said: “ByteDance acquired Flipagram in 2017 and operated it, and subsequently Vigo, for a short time. Flipagram and Vigo ceased operations years ago and aren’t connected to any current ByteDance products.”
Short video-making platform TikTok has crossed one billion monthly active users around the world.
It has overtaken Facebook as the most downloaded social media app in the world.