The ongoing debate over whether or not TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has access to user data has become less of an “Is it or not?” and more “Exactly how much does it have? And who exactly has access to it?”
Yintao Yu, who was head of US engineering at ByteDance from August 2017 to November 2018, says the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had “supreme access” to all ByteDance data, including that of US users. , The New York Times reported.
Yu, who is suing the company for wrongful dismissal, says the CCP had a designated unit at ByteDance’s Beijing office – sometimes called the “Committee” – and CCP members monitored the company and “guided how it advanced fundamental communist values”. “, according to the complaint.
“The Committee maintained supreme access to all company data, even data stored in the United States,” the lawsuit alleges. Although the committee members do not officially work for ByteDance, the CCP “has played an important role” and the tech giant has become a “useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party”.
Related: TikTok Tracked People Who Viewed Gay Content, Categorizes Users Into ‘Clusters’
The data was made available to the CCP through a “backdoor channel”, Yu claims, and included all company data regardless of location, which is no exception to US user data.
In his lawsuit, Yu also accuses the company of “lawlessness,” citing an example of ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming bribing Lu Wei, a senior government official in charge of internet regulation.
Yu also alleges that the company used questionable practices to increase engagement on TikTok, such as posting content copied from Instagram and Snapchat without permission and deploying “fabricated users”, who were essentially people. bots designed to interact with content and increase engagement.
“We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe to be baseless claims and allegations,” a ByteDance spokesperson said. Entrepreneur.
Additionally, there seems to be some debate over Yu’s tenure within the company. Although he claims to have worked at ByteDance for almost 16 months, a spokesperson said he had been with the company for less than a year.
“Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year and his employment ended in July 2018,” the spokesperson said — a claim Yu also disputes in his lawsuit.
Yu’s complaint — baseless or not — is based on ByteDance’s operations five years ago and may not apply to its current data practices. Still, it comes at a time when the company is facing intense scrutiny in the US over data privacy concerns.
Related: Why is the US threatening to ban TikTok? Government wants Chinese owners to sell stakes