Ex-ByteDance Executive Claims China Has Access to TikTok User Data in US

TikTok app with USA and China flags

A former top executive at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has claimed that it built a “backdoor channel” in its code that allowed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) access to user data in the U.S. in a new lawsuit.

Former executive Yintao “Roger” Yu is suing TikTok owner ByteDance for wrongful termination from his job as head of engineering in the U.S. in November 2018.

In a complaint filed on May 12 in San Francisco Superior Court, Yu alleges he was fired from his job for his “observation and reporting of illegal conduct” at ByteDance to supervisors at the company.

‘A Backdoor Channel in The Code’

In the wrongful dismissal suit, Yu says Beijing-based ByteDance “has served as a useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party” and engaged in a “culture of lawlessness.”

According to The New York Times, Yu says the CCP had a special office in the company, sometimes referred to as the “Committee,” which monitored Bytedance and “guided how it advanced core Communist values.”

“The Committee maintained supreme access to all the company data, even data stored in the United States.”

Yu’s lawsuit alleges that he “saw the backdoor channel in the code” which made user data accessible to the CCP no matter where the data was located.

The complaint alleges ByteDance “was aware that if the Chinese government’s backdoor was removed from the international/U.S. version of the app, the Chinese government would, it feared, ban the company’s valuable Chinese-version apps.”

The lawsuit says the CCP “Committee” could monitor its business activities, demote content the unit viewed as unfavorable to China’s interests, and even use a “death switch” to turn off Chinese versions of its apps.

Fake Social Media Accounts

Yu also accused the company of scraping data from competitors, mainly Instagram and Snapchat, without users’ permission. Painting a picture of the company’s early days in 2018, he claimed ByteDance would take videos from its competitors and post the content to its own services using fake social media accounts.

In a statement to The New York Times, ByteDance denied Yu’s accusations: “We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint.”

The explosive allegations come as lawmakers weigh the fate of TikTok in the U.S. amid growing concerns over national security and data privacy.

TikTok has repeatedly stated that U.S. user data is not stored in China where those laws apply. And the company has sought to assure U.S. lawmakers that American user data is safe.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.