TikTok has been staffing up as it looks to compete with YouTube and Instagram.
The company tripled its US employee headcount last year. It currently has around 1,140 US job openings listed on its hiring page. And it’s standing on firmer footing in the US after President Biden signed an executive order reversing an effort by the Trump administration to crack down on Chinese tech companies. Its app has been downloaded over three billion times globally – a feat only Facebook had previously achieved.
But the company is still a relative newcomer to the US tech scene, and its hiring process is less well known than the app itself.
Insider spoke with Lauren Flaus, TikTok’s university recruiting lead for the Americas, and Kate Barney, head of HR for TikTok’s global business solutions team in the US and EMEA, to understand what it takes to land a job at the company.
Job applicants should prepare for interviews by showing that they’ve actually spent time on TikTok, the pair said.
“I think it’s really important for us to at least see that a candidate understands we’re an entertainment platform,” Flaus said. “We do want to understand that they have a passion and interest for those cultural trends and have that knowledge.”
“If you’re not going to make a video, at least have proven that you’ve watched a few and you know what it is,” Barney told Insider last year. “Figure out what’s trending that week. You might not need to know the Toosie Slide, but at least figure out what makes a TikTok video and why they are so fun and joyful.”
One area of focus for TikTok’s recruiting team has been the company’s new video resume program where applicants can upload a video to TikTok to publicly pitch themselves for a job.
“The influence that the video could have may vary depending on the role and what types of skills are necessary to be successful,” Flaus said. “I think being a creative problem solver and having some sort of creative aptitude is important for all our candidates.”
TikTok’s parent company was planning on taking some parts of its business public, the Wall Street Journal reports, but those efforts ground to a halt after Chinese regulators advised the company to focus on potential data security risks.
China had only just kicked off a more aggressive affront to Big Tech when Ma’s October listing plans were caught in the thicket. It didn’t help that Ma very publicly scoffed at how China regulates the financial sector.
What followed was a very public crackdown of Ma when the government yanked his IPO before it could even take off.
Made by TikTok owner ByteDance, the Dali Smart Lamp comes with two cameras: one mounted on the front and one on the top. The lamp can connect to a parent’s smartphone, with the dual cameras allowing parents to see both their child’s face and their homework while video chatting, according to an October news release about the product. An iPhone-sized screen on the lamp lets children video chat with parents or tutors. It also has an artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant to help with vocabulary and math problems.
The lamp was designed to let busy parents stay involved in their children’s studies, according to the news release.
“When parents work overtime or are away on business, they can use the powerful dual-camera video call function to talk to their children anytime and anywhere,” the release reads. “When they see their children, they can see the desktop more clearly, remotely counseling, and they don’t miss their children’s growth.”
Promotional images show the lamp is T-shaped and that it comes in two colors – “lake blue” and “cherry blossom powder.”
A slightly pricier $170 version of the lamp can send alerts and photos to parents when their children slouch, per The Journal.
ByteDance sold more than 10,000 of the lamps within a month of launch in October 2020, and the products have gotten “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on Chinese social media, according to The Journal. ByteDance has been selling $1.5 million worth of the smart lamps each month on Tmall, the Chinese e-commerce site operated by Alibaba, according to SupChina, a New York-based, China-focused news site. ByteDance and Alibaba did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on sales figures.
Some people have expressed privacy concerns over some of the lamp’s functions, like the remote working and the ability for children to upload videos. (ByteDance told The Journal that only videos of homework can be uploaded, and only with parental permission.) But as evidenced by the lamp’s popularity, many other parents don’t seem to mind.
“In Asia, parents are less obsessed about the idea of surveillance and parents often see parental oversight as a good thing,” Sunsun Lim, a professor at Singapore’s University of Technology and Design who studies technology and families, told The Journal.
ByteDance did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.
Moving into China’s $40 billion online education industry
Zhang Yiming, cofounder of the Chinese internet giant ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is stepping down as CEO, Reuters reported Wednesday.
“The truth is, I lack some of the skills that make an ideal manager. I’m more interested in analyzing organizational and market principles, and leveraging these theories to further reduce management work, rather than actually managing people,” Yiming wrote in a memo to employees, according to Reuters.
“Similarly, I’m not very social, preferring solitary activities like being online, reading, listening to music, and contemplating what may be possible,” he added.
Yiming said ByteDance cofounder and HR chief Rubo Liang will transition into the CEO role over the next six months, Reuters reported.
Yiming, a 38-year-old software engineer who cofounded ByteDance in 2021, has since built a net worth of around $36 billion, Forbes estimates. Despite being one of the wealthiest people in China as ranked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Zhang is extremely private and little is known about his personal life.
ByteDance, the Chinese owner of video app TikTok, may be worth $250 billion – a valuation that beats Coca-Cola and far outranks Twitter, Bloomberg reports.
Coca-Cola is valued at $228 billion, and Twitter is $48.8 billion, according to Markets Insider data. Just last month, ByteDance was trading at a valuation of $200 billion on the secondary market, according to Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter.
In April 2017, the Beijing-based startup was valued at $140 billion, according to CB Insights. Shares have risen as the company considers an initial public offering and investor confidence increases, Bloomberg said, citing the sources.
ByteDance did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
ByteDance’s app TikTok has come under scrutiny in Western countries for potentially sharing user data with the Chinese government, but the company has denied the claims.
TikTok, which has more than 100 million active users in the US and about the same in Europe, previously had a spat with the US government, which was planning to ban the app under former President Donald Trump.
TikTok is a popular social media app built around an enormous library of user-created short-form videos. Owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, TikTok is projected to surpass 1 billion active monthly users in 2021 – that makes it one of the largest social media apps with roughly the same amount of activity as Instagram.
TikTok is relatively safe
Any social media company with that much reach is likely to undergo substantial scrutiny – Facebook, for example, has repeatedly come under fire for its privacy policies throughout its history. But TikTok has gotten outsized attention in the last few years. The Trump administration repeatedly sought to ban the app, citing the potential for ByteDance to share its trove of user data with the Chinese government. Even President Biden – as a candidate in the fall of 2020 – referred to TikTok as “a matter of genuine concern.”
Many cybersecurity experts suggest keeping all this in perspective. “Of all the serious cyber risks facing the average consumer, TikTok isn’t on the top of the list. Most Americans ought to be way more concerned about credit card fraud and password protection than TikTok,” Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and chief operating officer of Chargebacks911, said.
Chester Wisniewski, principal research scientist at Sophos, agreed: “TikTok doesn’t pose any more risk to a user than any other social media sharing application. That isn’t to say that there isn’t risk, but it’s not really different from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.”
In fact, while politicians continue to discuss legislative actions against TikTok – Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Rick Scott introduced a bill in 2020 to ban all federal employees from using the app on government devices, for example – there’s still little evidence of harm. Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech, was most critical of the climate against the app: “TikTok’s supposed risks to national security were mostly, if not all, politically motivated embellishments with no evidence to back them up.”
Concerns about TikTok
Bischoff’s criticism notwithstanding, concern about TikTok isn’t without some merit. Cybersecurity experts point to privacy issues like data mining, device permissions, and a potential risk to national security as common causes for concern.
Like any social media app, TikTok collects data about its users – but the extent to which TikTok mines user data is extraordinary. Aliza Vigderman, a journalist at Security.org, said that TikTok can collect as many as 50 kinds of information from users 13 and older – everything from age, username, gender, and email address to details about your mobile device, content of messages, and tracking data about your online activities. Because the company shares information with “advertising, marketing, and analytics vendors,” Vigderman assessed that “your information is not safe with TikTok.”
Similarly, many apps require users to agree to give permission to various aspects of the phone, and TikTok is no different. To use TikTok, a user must allow the app to access the microphone, camera, contacts, clipboard, and location service. To create content on the app, some of those permissions are clearly necessary – but others are not.
Regarding national security concerns, it’s unclear if TikTok poses a risk to the US. Clearly, many US politicians believe that China could use TikTok to spy on US citizens or mine their data, and some worry that data will be given to the Chinese government, as that’s legal under Chinese laws. TikTok says it stores data from US users on servers in the US to shield them from Chinese government requests, but “there’s some legal debate on whether or not the company would be subject to US or China laws regarding these servers,” Vigderman said.
There’s minimal risk for the average TikTok user
All things considered, “TikTok does not pose any particular risks to average users.” That’s the assessment of Brian Turner, chief technical officer of Convert Binary. His perspective echoes that of many other security experts who have evaluated the risks posed by the social media giant.
Certainly, there is potential for the substantial volumes of user data collected by TikTok to be shared with partners, but that’s not substantially different than when using Facebook. Said Bischoff: “Yes, there are some risks in giving up personal information. But anyone who uses any major social network in the past 10 years has taken similar risks. There’s nothing outstanding about TikTok except the fact that it’s Chinese-owned. If your job makes you responsible for national security or trade secrets, then you might want to avoid making yourself a target and stay off the app.”
In general, if you have concerns about any potential risks of using TikTok, your best bet may be to not use the app at all. Nonetheless, there are steps you can take to minimize the digital footprint you leave within TikTok.
Don’t overshare: Don’t use your full name or specify your age. Keep identifiable personal landmarks like street signs and schools out of view.
Make your account private: By setting your account to “private” in TikTok’s settings menu, you need to approve anyone who tries to follow you, and only your friends can see the content you have liked.
Don’t allow other users to find you: By default, TikTok shares your content with the entire app’s community. To prevent that, you can turn off “Suggest your account to others” in settings.
Don’t let other users interact with you: Also in TikTok’s settings, you can disable privacy options like “Allow your videos to be downloaded” and to restrict “Who can send you direct messages” to just friends.