TikTok’s ByteDance aims for a user-tracking hammer phone

Chris Burns - Jul 29, 2019, 10:31 am CDT
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TikTok’s ByteDance aims for a user-tracking hammer phone

Several companies are coming together to great a smartphone, and it’s going to be a big deal. It’ll be a big deal, that is to say, if they actually get to the point where the machine is produced. One other prerequisite for this phone’s success: It’ll have to be a lot more well-executed than what we’ve seen from companies like this in the past. Take, for example, the HTC Facebook phone.

The Facebook Phone of which I speak is the HTC First, a phone that was released in the year 2013 with the promise of a fully-immersive Facebook hardware and software experience. It bombed, hard. The only part of the experience that survived was the “Chat Heads” feature for Facebook Messenger – those circular icons that float around your home screen on an Android device whenever you get a message on Messenger – that started with the HTC First.

TikTok is the most well-known property currently owned by the folks at ByteDance. ByteDance specializes in two things – social apps and machine learning.

They use user “taps, swipes, time spent on each article, time of the day the content is consumed, pauses, comments, dislikes, favorites, etc.” to create a “personalized content feed customized specifically for each user.” In other words, they track their users and feed them content that’ll make them stay in their app(s) and engage, share, create, etcetera.

SIDENOTE: I’d like to recommend you see the relatively new documentary “The Great Hack” by filmmakers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer. It’s on Netflix now, but may be available elsewhere soon. Also see the “FTC Slams TikTok” story in the timeline below for a very, very close link between TikTok and Facebook privacy.

What’s this all got to do with a smartphone?

When Facebook started attempting to get their brand and smartphone experience as close to the consumer as possible, they worked with HTC to create devices like the HTC ChaCha and the HTC Salsa. These and the HTC First (as noted above) never really made a massive mark. Instead, Facebook took over the entire world by being an omnipotent force in apps alone.

FUN FACT: To see how Facebook collects information about you and everyone around you, try to sign up for a new Facebook account on your phone. See how many time you have to tap “NO, PLEASE, STOP ASKING” when Facebook asks if it can have access to your contacts. Last I checked (last week) it was around 4 times, minimum.

Now the folks at hammer logo-wielding phone-maker Smartisan struck a deal with ByteDance to make their own phone.

Smartisan, aka Hammer Technology, or 锤子科技, was reported by Caijing to be in business with ByteDance for several months. Earlier this year (inside the month of January), ByteDance acquired a patent portfolio and workers from Smartisan according to NBDPress. According to Yicai, the two parties “have just initiated cooperation in software and hardware, and the actual products to be jointly promoted have yet to be settled down.”

ByteDance released a comment on the situation, saying (translated): “Before ByteDance jumped to acquire the Hammer Technology team, the hammer was already planning to create a new phone. This new mobile phone project is more of a continuation of the previous plan to meet the demand of the established Hammer mobile phone user base.”

Cross your fingers it doesn’t end up being a machine aimed at collecting the every action and decision of the user, aiming to translate said information into actionable information for use and/or sale to a hungry market. It’s not like user information is more valuable than any other commodity right now, right?


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