Reddit CEO describes ‘parasitic’ TikTok as ‘spyware’

27 Feb 2020

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At the Social 2030 conference in Silicon Valley, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman took aim at TikTok, voicing concerns about privacy.

TikTok is an app that enables users to create, edit and share short-form video content, and has steadily been growing its user base since it was launched in international markets in 2017. In the last year, in particular, the app has seen a surge in popularity, mainly among younger users.

Owned by Beijing-headquartered digital media company ByteDance, TikTok has become involved in a number of controversies in recent months, with the US government launching a formal investigation into the app in November 2019, due to “national security concerns”.

While the app’s 1.5bn downloaders may see the appeal of the social platform, Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman does not. During a panel discussion yesterday (27 February), Huffman described TikTok as “fundamentally parasitic”.

‘I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone’

Security concerns

As reported by TechCrunch, the comments were made at a Silicon Valley conference called Social 2030, which was hosted by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Slow Ventures.

The event was held to highlight and identify trends in social media apps, which meant that it was only a matter of time until TikTok came up during a panel discussion.

TikTok was referenced in a positive light by those impressed by how it apparently came from nowhere to become the second-most downloaded app of 2019. However, Huffman was not as enthusiastic about the platform, referring to the app as “spyware.”

While in discussion with former Facebook public policy executive Elliot Schrage and former Facebook VP of product Sam Lessin, the Reddit boss disagreed with the idea that Silicon Valley start-ups should be taking notes from TikTok’s success.

“Maybe I’m going to regret this, but I can’t even get to that level of thinking with them,” Huffmann said. “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.

“I actively tell people, ‘Don’t install that spyware on your phone’,” he added.

TechCrunch has reached out to ByteDance for comment in response to the criticism.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic