ByteDance reportedly scraped content like usernames, profile pictures, etc. from Instagram and Snapchat and uploaded them without consent. In 2017, the TikTok owner reportedly stole short form videos, usernames, profile pictures and descriptions from these platforms. They uploaded the content in order to make fake accounts on Flipagram, a predecessor of TikTok. Four former employees of the Chinese company made the revelation of this occurrence.
These employees had worked on Flipagram, which went on to be named Vigo Video later on. Moreover, internal documents revealed that the content scraping was carried out by an engineering team in China, which took off right after Flipagram’s acquisition in 2017. The ex-employees listed this one of its many ‘growth hacks,’ including the company’s manipulation of its like and views statistics. Apparently, the scraping impacted various accounts, and how the team hoped to scrape over 10,000 videos everyday.
Neither reporters nor the former workers know when such scraping by the company finally stopped. They claimed that the content’s purpose was to train the company’s personalised algorithm for content based in the US for American users. The popular “For You” algorithm is currently used extensively both in TikTok and Duoyin, its Chinese equivalent. ByteDance received a detailed list of the accusations from reporters who wanted to report on it. This include the question of whether the company ever used Flipagram’s data to train its current personalised algorithm.
In response, ByteDance spokesperson Jennifer Banks wrote back two sentences: “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.”
None of the people involved with Flipagram, including its former Chief Executive Farhad Mohit, responded to any requests made for comments on the situation. However, the chief technology officer of Flipagram, Brian Diller denied the allegations of the company ever having scraped and reuploaded content.
Documents on the matter revealed detailed aspects and references about content scraped from platforms. ByteDance reportedly used ‘fake accounts’ and such content to test which of it performed well on the app. Additionally, how real users could copy those and improve their online popularity. The content scraped were at times from Instagram which were posted on Flipagram.
The company apparently started off by copying content from certain short-form video apps based in China, then putting it on Flipagram in 2017. Some documents revealed they determined to look for contents less ‘Chinese’ in nature to target users in the United Staes.