TikTok parent ByteDance allowed CCP ‘top access’ to US data: lawsuit


May 15, 2023 | 11:01 a.m

The Chinese Communist Party has maintained “superior access” to all data held by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, including information stored in the United States, a former senior company executive alleged in a lawsuit in California state court.

Yintao “Roger” Yu, the former head of engineering for ByteDance’s US operations, has alleged he was fired after raising alarms about the company’s actions to his superiors.

He asserted that ByteDance’s leadership knew a special committee within the Chinese government had a “back channel” to access US user data — despite the company’s repeated denials that there was such a relationship, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by Bloomberg.

Yu also alleged that ByteDance had engaged in an effort to spread propaganda that supported the Chinese Communist Party’s views on TikTok, which has more than 150 million users in the US.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday, alleges: “The commission maintained unfettered access to all of the company’s data, even data stored in the United States.” “After receiving criticism about access from abroad, individual engineers in China were restricted from accessing US user data, but the commission continued to access it.”

TikTok is scrambling to avoid a US ban.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The damning allegations have surfaced as TikTok seeks to avoid an outright ban in the US. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have called for the app to be banned over a range of concerns, including its impact on underage users and national security risks.

Yu also stated in the lawsuit that he was “shocked by the misdirection” of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, who repeatedly downplayed the company’s connections to the Chinese government during combative testimony on Capitol Hill in March.

Qiu denied the Chinese government had access to US user data, and pointed to the company’s efforts to allay privacy concerns, including its move to store information at the country level on servers maintained by Oracle.

ByteDance’s former US engineering chief has alleged that China has backdoor access to user data.

Yu, a California resident hired by ByteDance in 2017, alleged that ByteDance engaged in “brazenly illegal behaviour,” including stealing video content from competing social media platforms Instagram and Snapchat and using fake users to boost engagement metrics across its platforms, according to the complaint. .

“These actions were taken without the permission of the content creators and constitute an unlawful effort to gain an advantage against online video hosting sites,” the suit said.

The lawsuit described ByteDance’s actions as “a worldwide scheme (including in California) to steal and profit from the copyrighted work of others.”

ByteDance dismissed the lawsuit’s allegations as unfounded.

ByteDance said Yu’s allegations were “baseless” and vowed to fight the lawsuit.

“ByteDance is committed to respecting the intellectual property of other companies, and we obtain data in accordance with industry practices and our global policy,” a ByteDance spokesperson told Bloomberg.

ByteDance confirmed that Yu only had a “short” tenure at the company, which lasted less than a year, and that he “worked on an app called Flipagram, which was discontinued years ago for commercial reasons.”

ByteDance is the parent company of TikTok based in Beijing.

TikTok and ByteDance did not immediately respond to The Post’s requests for comment.

Yu, who was fired in 2018, is seeking damages, including lost wages and stock options, as well as a court order preventing ByteDance from taking social media content from other platforms.

In March, the Biden administration reportedly warned ByteDance executives that TikTok would be banned unless its China-based parent company sold its stakes. China hit back, saying it would “firmly” oppose any forced sale.

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