Ex-ByteDance employee claims China had ‘supreme access’ to all data | CNN Business
China’s Communist Party had “supreme access” to all of TikTok’s parent company Bytedance’s data, including on servers in the United States, a former employer who is filing a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit has alleged. legal
The lawsuit’s allegations, which Bytedance denies and has vowed to contest, come at a time of intense scrutiny in the United States and other Western nations over what level of control, if any, Beijing can exercise over TikTok and the app of social networks. very popular content.
Yintao “Roger” Yu filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Bytedance in San Francisco Superior Court earlier this month. He says he worked at the company from August 2017 to November 2018, as head of engineering for US operations.
In a new complaint filed Friday, Yu claimed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had a special office at the company, sometimes called the “Committee,” that oversaw Bytedance and “guided how it advanced core communist values.”
“The Committee maintained supreme access to all company data, including data stored in the United States,” the complaint obtained by CNN said.
Yu’s lawsuit alleges that the company made user data accessible to the Chinese Communist Party through a backdoor channel, regardless of where the data was located.
Yu also claimed that he had observed that Bytedance was “responding to the CCP’s requests” to share, elevate or even remove content, describing Bytedance as “a useful propaganda tool” for Beijing’s leaders.
A Bytedance spokesperson has denied Yu’s allegations, saying he worked on an app called Flipagram while at the company, which was discontinued for business reasons.
“We strongly oppose what we believe are unfounded claims and allegations in this complaint,” the spokesperson told CNN.
“Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year and his employment ended in July 2018,” which Yu disputed in his complaint.
Earlier reports of Yu’s lawsuit detailed how shortly after starting his job, he realized that Bytedance had engaged for years in what he called a “worldwide scheme” to steal and profit from other people’s content.
The scheme involved the use of purposefully unleashed software to “systematically” remove user content from competitors’ websites, primarily Instagram and Snapchat, and populate their own video services without asking for permission.
The former employee alleged that he was “concerned about ByteDance’s efforts to skirt legal and ethical lines.”
Yu is seeking compensatory damages including lost earnings, injunctive relief, and liquidated and punitive damages.
In a statement to CNN, a ByteDance spokesperson said the company is “committed to respecting the intellectual property of other companies, and we acquire data in accordance with industry practices and our global policy.”
The latest allegations come as the wildly popular TikTok app is at risk of being banned by US lawmakers over national security concerns.
The Biden administration has threatened TikTok with a national ban unless its Chinese owners sell their stakes in the company, explaining an increasingly strained relationship between the two countries. Last month, Montana became the first US state to pass legislation banning TikTok on all personal devices.
At issue is who owns the keys to TikTok’s algorithms and the vast amount of data collected from the 150 million people in the United States who use the app each month.
U.S. officials have widely expressed fears that the Chinese government could gain access to TikTok’s user data through its links to its parent company, and that that information could be used to benefit Chinese intelligence or propaganda campaigns. propaganda
However, security experts say there is still no public evidence that the Chinese government has spied on people through TikTok, which does not operate in China.
In March, TikTok chief executive Shou Chew testified before Congress, saying he had “not seen any evidence that the Chinese government had access to this.” [US user] data; they have never asked us for it, we have not provided it”.
“Our commitment is to move your data to the United States, to be stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel. So the risk would be similar to any government going to a American company to ask for data,” Chew told the audience.
China has responded to the Biden administration’s demand, saying it would “strongly” oppose a forced sale of TikTok.
The Chinese government considers some advanced technologies, including content recommendation algorithms, to be critical to its national interest. In December, Chinese officials proposed tightening rules governing the sale of such technology to foreign buyers.
A sale or divestment of TikTok would involve exporting technology, requiring a license and approval from the Chinese government, a commerce ministry spokeswoman said in March.