Accusation: China’s government controls TikTok and can access US data

In the Beijing offices of Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, a special unit, also known as a “committee”, made up of members of the Chinese Communist Party has full access to all data – including that stored on servers in the USA. This is the most serious accusation, along with the accusation that TikTok stole copyrighted content from other platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat in the early days in order to help its own social network to become better known. Actually, it’s about the proceedings of a former employee who is suing for wrongful dismissal and hasn’t worked at Bytedance since 2018. He also never worked for TikTok.

According to Yu, the so-called “committee” not only has access to all TikTok data in the USA, but also monitors all apps of the Bytedance group and “promotes the handling of basic communist values”. The “committee” is also said to have a “death switch” with which it can completely switch off the Chinese apps. Bytedance created armies of bots in the early days of TikTok to increase user numbers and stole intellectual property from other companies for its own profit, the former employee alleges.

The former employee, a senior executive at Bytedance in the US, was fired for raising concerns about questionable practices within the company, according to a New York Times report. According to the company, he only worked at Bytedance from August 2017 to July 2018 as head of a technical department of Bytedance in the US – but Yu claims that he worked for the company until November 2018. According to Bytedance, he worked on an app called “Flipagram” that was discontinued years ago due to changing business interests.

During his employment, Yu, who was born in China and now lives in the USA, also worked for Bytedance in the offices in China and observed how engineers from “Douyin”, the Chinese variant of TikTok, changed the algorithm. Content with “hatred of Japan” was therefore given greater reach and higher ratings. However, supportive contributions to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have been limited in scope. “There was no debate about that,” Yu said, saying it was just done.

Yu justifies the accusation of “lawlessness” within Bytedance with the bribery of a high-ranking Chinese government official who was responsible for regulating the Internet. In a trial on the allegations, government official Lu Wei was convicted of bribery in 2018. Where the bribes came from and who paid them was not mentioned. According to the lawsuit, that was Zhang Yiming, the founder of Bytedance.

In an interview, Yu explained that the geographic location of the stored user data is irrelevant when it comes to accessing US data, and engineers have built in a backdoor to access the data. Before the hearing in the US Congress in March, the TikTok boss wanted to clarify all “misunderstandings” and claimed that the video service was storing its data in the USA and protecting it from access by China.

In his lawsuit for unlawful dismissal, Yu is demanding, among other things, compensation for his loss of earnings (a specific amount was not specified) and 220,000 Bytedance shares. The shares would be worth tens of millions. According to the New York Times, this was preceded by several years of failed mediation attempts. The lawsuit and allegations come against Bytedance five years after his release and amid the US government investigation.


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