Former TikTok Employees Say Company Works Closely with China’s ByteDance Despite Claiming Otherwise

Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Econ
Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former TikTok employees reportedly say the app has worked closely with its parent company, Chinese technology giant ByteDance, despite claiming otherwise.

While TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told U.S. lawmakers in January that the app had severed most of its connections with ByteDance — which is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party — 11 former employees, four of whom were employed as recently as last year, told Fortune a different story.

In one example, Evan Turner, who worked as a senior data scientist at TikTok from April to September 2022, said that he first reported to a ByteDance executive in Beijing, but at some point was told to start reporting to a Seattle-based executive.

TikTok Influencers film video (MIGUEL MEDINA /Getty)

The only problem was that this American TikTok executive did not exist, except for on paper, Turner said.

After being told that he would start reporting to the Seattle-based executive, an HR representative followed up with Turner in a separate conversation and informed him that he would actually still be working with the Chinese ByteDance executive, the ex-TikTok employee said.

Turner said he never met the alleged Seattle-based executive and continued his weekly check-ins with the ByteDance executive in  China.

Twice a month, the Beijing-based executive had Turner email spreadsheets containing data for hundreds of thousands of U.S. TikTok users to ByteDance employees in China, he said.

The former TikTok employee noted that the data included names, email addresses, and IP addresses, as well as geographic and demographic information of U.S. users on the Chinese app.

“I literally worked on a project that gave U.S. data to China,” Turner told Fortune. “They were completely complicit in that. There were Americans that were working in upper management that were completely complicit in this.”

Notably, the fake Seattle-based executive reassignment came after TikTok said it would start storing sensitive U.S. user data only in the United States and make it so that only U.S. employees had access to it.

This move was made was in effort to appease U.S. lawmakers who have been expressing concerns over the risks TikTok poses to American users and the United States in general.

As Breitbart News reported, the U.S. Senate is reviewing legislation that could ban TikTok if ByteDance doesn’t sell it within six months. The Chinese app has since purchased $2.1 million in television advertising in the battleground states in an apparent attempt to meddle in U.S. elections.

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


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