Former ByteDance Executive: China Has ‘Supreme Access’ to All TikTok Data

CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 20: The TikTok logo is displayed outside a TikTok offic
Mario Tama/Getty Images, AP Photo/Andy Wong

A former executive at ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, says the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had “supreme access” to all data held by the Chinese tech company, including on servers in the United States.

Yintao “Roger” Yu, a former head of engineering at Bytedance in the United States, says the CCP had a special office inside the company, called the “Committee,” which monitored Bytedance and its TikTok subsidiary and “guided how it advanced core Communist values,” according to the complaint obtained by CNN.

Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. The New Economy Forum is being organized by Bloomberg Media Group, a division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. Photographer: Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“The Committee maintained supreme access to all the company data, even data stored in the United States,” Yu’s wrongful termination lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in Superior Court in San Francisco, read.

The suit also claims that Bytedance made user data accessible to the CCP via a backdoor channel, and that it didn’t matter where the in the world the data was located.

Yu also said that he had witnessed Bytedance being “responsive to the CCP’s requests” to share, elevate, and even remove content. The former executive also described the Chinese tech company as “useful propaganda tool” for Beijing’s communist leaders.

In his complaint, the ex-ByteDance employee, who was dismissed by ByteDance in November 2018, also alleged that the Chinese company dismissed him after he flagged illegal activity, according to a report by Reuters.

Yu says he told management he was concerned over the company taking user content from other platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, and that management told him to hide the illegal program, especially from employees in the United States, as the country has stricter laws.

The former executive says ByteDance engaged in a “worldwide scheme to steal and profit from the content of others” without asking permission.

Yu is now seeking a court order that would ban ByteDance from scraping content from other social media platforms.

“We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations. Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year,” ByteDance said in response to Yu’s complaint.

In response to the scraping allegations, the Chinese company claimed that the data it acquired was in line with industry practice and its global policy.

The dispute between Yu and ByteDance comes as U.S. lawmakers and others call for a nationwide ban of the Chinese tech company due to the CCP’s influence over it.

ByteDance is also known for obtaining the private user data of U.S. journalists. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Chinese company had also secretly tracked a UK journalist via her cat’s TikTok account, which didn’t even have her real name on it.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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