News and Commentary

Despite Privacy and Censorship Concerns, Chinese-Backed TikTok Owner Doubles Revenue To $34 Billion, With 1.9 Billion Users
PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 26: In this photo illustration the logo of Chinese media app for creating and sharing short videos, TikTok, also known as Douyin is displayed on the screen of a smartphone in front of a Chinese flag on December 26, 2019 in Paris, France. The social media app TikTok developed by Chinese company ByteDance continues its meteoric rise and exceeded the milestone of 1.5 billion downloads. Tik Tok now surpasses Facebook and Instagram.
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ByteDance, the China-based owner of TikTok, reportedly witnessed its revenues for 2020 more than double compared to the previous year.

“Revenue for last year totaled $34.3 billion, up 111% year-on-year, senior management at the company told employees in a company-wide meeting,” reported CNBC. “Gross profit rose 93% to $19 billion, the person who attended the meeting said.”

According to a memo first discussed by The Wall Street Journal, “ByteDance had about 1.9 billion monthly active users across all its platforms as of December 2020. In addition to TikTok, these platforms include Douyin, the domestic Chinese equivalent of TikTok, and a news aggregation app called Jinri Toutiao.

“The Beijing-based firm told staffers that it incurred a $2.1 billion operating loss from January to December last year,” The Wall Street Journal added. “The loss was partly due to higher expenses incurred from share-based compensation to workers, according to a person familiar with the matter. For 2019, ByteDance had reported an operating profit of $684 million.”

ByteDance was founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, a Chinese entrepreneur. In 2018, TikTok burst onto the domestic social media stage after the company spent nearly $1 billion on advertising for the year, “helping turn it into the first-ever Chinese consumer-tech company to break out big in the U.S.”

The Chinese-backed platform has been widely criticized in recent years both for its censorship of content and its unclear data privacy methods.

In early June, TikTok attempted to explain away its latest apparent attempt to censor content regarding the LGBTQ+ community, describing its repeated removal of the “#intersex” hashtag as a “mistake.”

“Pidgeon Pagonis, an intersex activist, noticed last week that the #intersex hashtag wasn’t working on TikTok. They couldn’t click the tag on one of their own posts and trying to search for intersex pulled up a ‘null’ page,” reported The Verge. “This was the second time Pagonis noticed the tag disappearing, and they worried that TikTok had banned it just as they were about to start a series of celebratory videos called Intersex Joy.”

Just days earlier, the Chinese social media platform TikTok released their new privacy policy informing users that the app may collect new forms of biometric data, such as “faceprints and voiceprints,” but the company has reportedly been “unable to explain what types of data these terms referred to, or why the app might need to access this information in the first place.”

“A change to TikTok’s U.S. privacy policy on Wednesday introduced a new section that says the social video app ‘may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information’ from its users’ content,” reported TechCrunch. “This includes things like ‘faceprints and voiceprints,’ the policy explained.”

TechCrunch then explained that after being reached for comment on the forms of data that may be collected, “TikTok could not confirm what product developments necessitated the addition of biometric data to its list of disclosures about the information it automatically collects from users but said it would ask for consent in the case such data collection practices began.”

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