Yandex, a company often called the Google of Russia, says it struck a partnership deal that will connect its ad network into TikTok, the Chinese-based viral video app.
On Friday, Yandex announced the unique partnership, which is a sign that TikTok is starting to open its ad platform. "We will offer video ads within TikTok users’ curated feeds using a format we’ve adapted for the social platform," Yandex wrote in a blog post on Friday.
TikTok was not immediately available for comment. A Yandex spokeswoman said in an email that the ads will be for Russian audiences on TikTok. It plans to expand to audiences in Kazakhstan and Belarus, the spokeswoman said.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese-based tech firm, and has experienced a surge in popularity in the U.S., where it has more than 30 million monthly users, according to internal documents from the company. TikTok has 800 million monthly users worldwide, those same internal documents show.
However, TikTok's rise to prominence in the U.S. has brought with it increased concerns over national security. Only last week, there were reports that the U.S. Treasury Department, acting on recommendations from Congress, might be looking into TikTok's ability to access large volumes of U.S. consumer data. And now, with the Yandex deal, TikTok will be opening up its platform to a network based in a Russia—a country which has, of course, been at the center of political turmoil in the U.S. for the past few years. In fact, just this year, Reuters reported that the U.S. and its allies hacked into Yandex as part of a security operation.
For its part, in a prepared statement last week, TikTok told AdAge that it was willing to work closely with Congress to earn the trust of users and regulators.
The Yandex partnership shows that TikTok is still moving ahead with its ad technology, creating an ecosystem that would give outside buyers a line to its audiences.
TikTok does not share “sensitive personal data” with Yandex, according to the Yandex spokeswoman. “Yandex takes the privacy and security of users' data very seriously,” the spokeswoman said by e-mail. “TikTok and all other partners of the Yandex Advertising Network do not provide Yandex with any sensitive personal data. Our ad network partners do not share information on users' interests, gender, age, etc. During an ad request from Tik Tok to Yandex, the only information passed is a Google Advertising ID.”
Internal documents, which AdAge obtained last month, showed how TikTok was building its advertising platform with all the essential data pieces to make it work. TikTok was developing tracking pixels, which are computer codes that can identify internet users and their online behavior for targeting purposes. TikTok showed, too, that it was building an ad auction, where competing advertisers could bid on video ad space in real time. These are all common advertising practices among the major ad platforms.
TikTok also is building an audience network that would be similar to Facebook or Google's audience networks. These allow advertisers to target users of these platforms on other sites and apps.
Yandex isn't the only ad network to plug into TikTok, but it is unclear exactly which partners have the same rights to buy ads, or if any are in the U.S. TikTok has never disclosed a full list. TikTok's internal documents, dated June, listed measurement partners in the U.S., including Sizmek, AppsFlyer and Nielsen, among several others, but no firms with ad network privileges. Measurement partners just deliver reports on the effectiveness of ads, they don't handle the auctions.
The internal documents show the mechanics of the ad auctions, however, which are a strong sign of plans to allow outside partners into the bidding.
Yandex said TikTok was the third-most downloaded free app in Russia last month. TikTok would now appear to be one of Yandex's most high-profile sources of ad inventory, too. Aside from its own properties inside Russia, Yandex can tap into inventory on more than 40,000 other sites and apps, according to its ad network information page.
On TikTok "advertisers can target users by search interests, demographic characteristics, geography, and other parameters," Yandex said in its announcement.
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CORRECTION: The Yandex Advertising Network reaches tens of thousands of apps and websites. The scope of the network was incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story. Also, a comment from a Yandex spokeswoman regarding privacy and security was included in the updated story.