Is TikTok Really a Parasitic Platform as Reddit CEO Steve Huffman Claims?


During a conference yesterday, CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman accused TikTok, a Popular and fast-growing social media platform of being fundamentally parasitic.

Mr Huffman delivered this harsh criticism at the ‘Social 2030’ conference which was attended by Silicon Valley investors and major VC’s from across the US.

TIkTok has grown into a popular social platform

TikTok is a social video platform which allows users to create and share short videos. The apps video feature which often include dancing or lip-synching to a soundtrack tend to be funny and weird thus drawing in a lot of users.

TikTok has more than 1.5 billion global users

The platform which is owned by a China-based company called ByteDance gained global popularity after its merger with in 2018. Since then the company has grown considerably, surpassing a milestone 1.5 billion downloads on the App Store and Google Play in relatively short time.

However, TikTok has been on the receiving end of many privacy and data protection concerns. The latest of these is Huffman’s claim that TikTok is parasitic nature.

TikTok’s privacy concerns

Huffman claims that the social app is a spyware that tracked the actions of the users. He further added that the app is always listening and possessed a very terrifying fingerprinting technology.

Maybe I’m going to regret this, but I can’t even get to that level of thinking with them. Because I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it’s always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone.

Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit
Is TikTok Really a Parasitic Platform, as Reddit CEO Steve Huffman Claims?
Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit

Evaluating Huffman’s concerns about TikTok, I discovered an ‘in-video search tool’ that can track videos made by anyone on the platform with facial recognition.

The feature allows users to highlight any part of a video and perform an instant visual search of that part. These may include items of clothing or even more personally, faces of people in the video. The app will then show a list of other videos that appear on the platform.

This feature ostensibly seems to breach privacy by subjecting anyone using the app to behind-the-scenes facial recognition analysis. However, this might not necessarily be the case as the video that is being scrutinised have already been made public.

Moreover, permission are already granted the app in the signed terms and conditions signed by its users.

Also, Tiktok is not the first social organisation to utilise “visual search” as Google uses it to let you search for and verify pictures that appear on the internet.

TikTok guilty of illegally storing data of minors

Most of TikTok users are millennial which includes pre-teens (below 13). Last year the platform was fined $5.7 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for illegally collecting personal information about its pre-teen users.

Most of TikTok users are Millenials

Although the users accepted TikTok privacy policy, the company fell into murky waters because they still failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13. These minors can’t legally give accent for themselves.

TikTok censoring media content?

Apart from the privacy, the social app has been accused of censoring media content according to leaked documents reviewed by The Guardian.

Although ByteDance claimed the leaked documents were old, the controversy raised suspicion on the possible influence of the Chinese government in the company.

Security flaws

Nigeria hasn’t been left out of TikTok’s global growth. Last year, Sensor Tower, a global app intelligence provider ranked Tiktok the 16th most popular social media app in the country. The app appears to be growing in popularity still.

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Tiktok is the 16th most popular social app in Nigeria

However, last year a test by cybersecurity firm, Check Point, revealed vulnerabilities that would have allowed hackers to manipulate user data and reveal personal information.

The firm pointed out that various functions of the app had security issues and this includes the function for sending videos. However, TikTok claims that all the issues raised by Check Point have been fixed in the latest version of the App.

My verdict is…..

Tiktok is rapidly growing in popularity around the world and Nigeria is not exempted. Many Nigerian youths participate in viral video challenges of themselves either lip-synching to trending songs or showing off new dance moves.

It is my verdict that the various issues discovered about the app, though troubling, aren’t exactly peculiar to the company. Privacy problems are very common, not just with social media platforms but also big online data collection companies.

Thus, if TikTok is really as parasitic as Reddit’s Steve Huffman claims, then these other social media and big data companies are parasitic as well. But I want to believe there is more to Mr Huffman’s statement than meets the eye and that it didn’t just stem from social competition.

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