The Brief: At the Social 2030 venture capital conference, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman criticized TikTok's tracking methods, which includes fingerprinting technology, calling the app a "fundamentally parasitic" piece of "spyware."


In a panel discussion at the Social 2030 venture capital conference, Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman spoke out against TikTok’s tracking and privacy practices, calling the app “fundamentally parasitic” and a piece of “spyware.” As reported by TechCrunch, he said:

“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 [TikTok] 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.”

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

In response to these comments, a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch “These are baseless accusations made without a shred of evidence.”

The fingerprinting technology Huffman referred to is a practice of online tracking that ad companies sometimes engage in. In a report published on Rufposten, the German researcher Matthias Erbel investigated how TikTok uses fingerprinting techniques that track users via browsers, devices, audio, and visuals. The report concludes that TikTok is “breaching the law in several ways whilst exploiting the data of its mainly teenage users.”

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance claims that fingerprinting technology is used to identify malicious browser behavior, but Erbel noted that TikTok still can function normally when the fingerprinting script is blocked. TikTok’s Privacy Policy lays out how and when the app tracks, saves, and shares user data and information, but does not explicitly mention its use of fingerprinting technology.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg echoed Huffman’s sentiments, expressing her concern about TikTok’s fast-growing pace and China-based parent company, telling NBC’s Dylan Byers “They’re a Chinese company, if people are concerned about data I think there’s a lot to be concerned about there.”

Comments like these don’t just come from TikTok’s competitors but reflect widespread skepticism about TikTok among American lawmakers and authorities. While some of this anxiety may be based in American suspicion towards the Chinese government extending to Chinese companies like ByteDance, TikTok has had many notable issues with privacy, security, and censorship including its alleged violation of children’s privacy law, which resulted in a $5.7 million fine from the FTC.