Former TikTok Executive Alleges China's "Godlike Credentials" for Accessing User Data
|"Illustration of TikTok Affiliate (Pixabay)"|
In a shocking revelation, a former executive at TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, has accused the Chinese Communist Party of accessing user data from the popular social video app, particularly targeting Hong Kong protesters and civil rights activists. Yintao Yu, the former head of technology at ByteDance's US operations, has made these claims in a legal filing, alleging that Communist Party members within ByteDance had unauthorized access to TikTok's user data, including user network information, SIM card identification, and IP addresses, with the intention of identifying individuals and their locations. The lawsuit, which was wrongfully filed by Yu in a California court and reported by the Wall Street Journal, further accuses them of monitoring TikTok users in Hong Kong who posted content related to protests, all under the oversight of ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing.
China's Alleged Unauthorized Access to User Data
As reported by The Guardian, these actions represent a kind of backdoor channel for the party to access user data in the United States. Yu claims in the filing that Communist Party committee members within ByteDance possess "super user" credentials, also referred to as "godlike credentials," granting them unrestricted access to all the data collected by ByteDance. The filing further states that during Yu's tenure at ByteDance between August 2017 and November 2018, TikTok stored all user direct messages, search histories, and viewed content. ByteDance withdrew the social video app from Hong Kong in 2020 amid concerns over the national security law that granted China greater powers in the city. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the US Congress in March, denying allegations of the Chinese Communist Party accessing US user data. "Let me be clear on this: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other foreign government," he stated emphatically.
Yu's Concerns and ByteDance's Denial
Yu's attorney, Charles Jung, a partner at Nassiri & Jung law firm, informed the WSJ that his client had come forward due to concerns regarding Chew's testimony. A ByteDance spokesperson denied Yu's claims, stating, "We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and accusations in this complaint. Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year, and his employment ended in July 2018." The spokesperson further added, "During his brief time at the company, he worked on an application called Flipagram, which was discontinued years ago for business reasons."
The allegations made by the former TikTok executive, Yintao Yu, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of unauthorized access to user data, have raised significant concerns regarding privacy and data security. While ByteDance vehemently denies these allegations, the filing shines a light on potential vulnerabilities in the handling of user data by social media platforms. As the legal proceedings unfold, the implications for user privacy and the global perception of TikTok's data practices remain at the forefront of the ongoing debate surrounding China's influence on digital platforms.