Ex-ByteDance Employees Say Co. Scraped Other Sites for Flipagram

Bytedance Scraped Flipagram Featured

With the social network space well-established, TikTok made a splash during the pandemic. Users may have felt safe, but ex-employees of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, contend the company scraped content from sites such as Instagram and Snapchat for Flipagram, another site owned by the company.

Former ByteDance Employees Speak Out

ByteDance started Doujin, the Chinese version of TikTok, in 2016. A year later, TikTok was launched, as was Flipagram. Former ByteDance employees speaking on anonymity have said the company scraped from other social media sites and added the content to Flipagram, which was later renamed Vigo Video.

The scraping project and manipulating like and view statistics were known as “growth hacks.” Scraping, also known as crawling, is when a computer is used to copy information from a website. In this case, ByteDance scraped videos, usernames, and profile pics and descriptions from Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media sites.

Bytedance Scraped Flipagram Tiktok

Hundreds of thousands of accounts were affected, according to one former employee. An internal document laid out a plan to “crawl video > 10k/day in PO countries. “

The ex-ByteDance employees are not aware of when the scraping project ended. A couple of them contend that the purpose of the scraping was to train the “For You’ algorithm with U.S.-based content to appeal more to U.S. users. The “For You” algorithm is used in both TikTok and Doujin.

A ByteDance employee explained the reasons for the scraped content and “fake accounts” in a document. They said the accounts would help test content to see what performed best. Users could then create similar content to what was stolen, making it more popular among viewers.

Bytedance Scraped Flipagram Video

The documents also show that ByteDance began scraping content in early 2017 to add to its fake accounts. It was attempting to show content that was “not too Chinese,” according to another document, and wanted it to appeal to U.S. users. Some of the former employees say the process didn’t pan out, as the scraped content still didn’t do well with users.

Midway through 2017, the scraped content was originating from the U.S., according to the former ByteDance employees. Instagram, Snapchat, and Musical.ly were called out as sources for the content. The latter was later acquired by the company and became TikTok.

Reactions from ByteDance and Users

In response to the allegations, Jennifer Banks, ByteDance spokesperson, said, “ByteDance acquired Fllipagram 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.”

Yet, that doesn’t answer what happened five years ago. The chief technology officer until fall 2017, Brian Dilley, was asked if ByteDance had scraped content for Flipagram. “No, in fact, I’m positive we were not,” he replied.

Bytedance Scraped Flipagram Recording

Despite the denial, there have been legal cases launched by people and companies who initially created the content. The former ByteDance employees contend that some people complained that their scraped content had been added to Flipagram, and complaints on Twitter support this.

Two former employees say ByteDance received emails complaining of being impersonated on Flipagram. Additionally, parents were questioning why their children’s content was appearing on an app they had never heard of before.

ByteDance employees were told to delete the accounts with the scraped content or allow the creator to have control of the account and explain that they can’t prevent a user from uploading content that wasn’t theirs.

Read on to find out how to download TikTok videos so that you can watch them even when you aren’t online.

Laura Tucker
Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

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