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Reddit CEO warns against ‘parasitic’ TikTok, claims app is spyware

Steve Huffman, co-founder and CEO of online forum Reddit, called out TikTok as “fundamentally parasitic,” while also declaring that the video-making and sharing app is spyware.

Huffman launched his criticism against TikTok in a panel discussion at the Social 2030 venture capital conference with former Facebook public policy chief Elliot Schrage and former Facebook VP of Product Sam Lessin. The Reddit CEO had harsh words in response to the suggestion that Silicon Valley startups could learn from TikTok and its innovations, according to TechCrunch.

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

The fingerprinting technology that Huffman is referring to combines audio and browser tracking to determine the content that people are watching and sharing, according to research by cybersecurity expert Matthias Eberl. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance claims that the purpose of the method is protection against malicious browser behavior, but Eberl said that the app will work fine without the scripts.

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

TikTok pushed back against Huffman’s allegations. “These are baseless accusations made without a shred of evidence,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

TikTok has seen its fair share of challenges, including a lawsuit that claims the app illegally transfers user data from the United States to China, and a vulnerability that may have allowed hackers to take over people’s profiles.

The app, however, continues to surge in popularity. In 2019, TikTok was downloaded more than 700 million times, beating Facebook and Messenger and behind only WhatsApp with its more than 850 million downloads, according to Sensor Tower’s Store Intelligence Data Digest. The app made $176.9 million in 2019, which is its best-ever year for revenue.

The reach of TikTok gave the World Health Organization the idea to create a profile on the app, with the purpose of providing public health advice amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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