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Former ByteDance exec accuses company of sharing US user data

A fake celebrity death trend took TikTok by storm over the holidays. (Dreamstime/TNS)
July 01, 2023

A former executive at ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, recently alleged in a legal filing that some Chinese Communist Party members used data to locate and identify Hong Kong protestors.

According to Business Insider, Yintao Yu, the former head of engineering for ByteDance in the U.S., accuses those same people of having access to U.S. user data, an allegation that the company claims is false.

Yu was previously employed for ByteDance in 2018 and made the accusations in a recent filing in the San Francisco Superior Court for a wrongful dismissal case. He accuses ByteDance of having had a “superuser” or “god” credential that allowed a special committee of CCP members within the company to view all data gathered by ByteDance, including the data of users located in the United States.

The filing states that the god credential served as “backdoor to any barrier ByteDance had supposedly installed to protect data from the C.C.P’s surveillance.” 

Yu claims to have seen the god credential being utilized to track Hong Kong civil rights activists and protestors through the surveillance of their network information, locations and devices, IP addresses and communications, and SIM card identifications. ByteDance responded to Yu’s recent accusations, stating that his claims are “baseless.” 

“It’s curious that Mr. Yu has never raised these allegations in the five years since his employment for Flipagram was terminated in July 2018,” ByteDance said. “His actions are clearly intended to garner media attention.” 

The company added that it plans to “vigorously oppose” what it views as “baseless claims and allegations” in Yu’s complaint.

READ MORE: Republicans seek ban on members’ TikTok use 

Charles Jung, Yu’s lawyer, claims his client chose to raise the recent accusations due to being “disturbed to hear the recent Congressional testimony of TikTok’s CEO” when Shou Zi Chew denied that Chinese authorities had access to U.S. user data.

“Telling the truth openly in court is risky, but social change requires the courage to tell the truth,” Jung commented. “It’s important to him that public policy be based on accurate information, so he’s determined to tell his story.” 

During a tense House hearing in March, Chew was grilled by lawmakers from both parties over his company’s alleged ties to China, harmful app content, and data security issues. He repeatedly denied that the company had any ties to China and that TikTok shares user data.  

Yu is also accusing ByteDance of being used as a “propaganda tool” for the CCP through the promotion of nationalistic content and the demotion of content which it deems against the party’s interest. Yu further accuses ByteDance of scraping content from users and competitors to repost on its sites for the purpose of exaggerating metrics.

According to Business Insider, Yu claims to have been fired from ByteDance for voicing his concerns about “wrongful conduct” that he witnessed during his time with the company.