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Ex-ByteDance exec says China had access to US user data via backdoor

May 15, 2023

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According to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed Friday, May 12, by a former top executive at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, the Chinese government “maintained supreme access” to company data. The information in the lawsuit comes despite executives at TikTok and ByteDance long maintaining the contrary.

The lawsuit was filed by Yintao Yu, who served as head of engineering for ByteDance’s U.S. offices. In the lawsuit, Yu claimed the company “has served as a useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”

Among the list of claims in the suit, Yu said the CCP had a special office within ByteDance. This office “played a significant role” in “gui[ding] how the company advanced core Communist values.”

According to the ByteDance suit, the Chinese government could access the data of U.S. users via a backdoor channel in the company’s code. Yu also said ByteDance was responsive to CCP requests to share information, as well as “elevate or remove” certain content.

Yu was fired from ByteDance back in 2018. His lawsuit claims he was let go as retaliation for raising concerns over what he believed was illegal conduct happening at the company.

“We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint,” a ByteDance spokesperson said in a statement responding to the lawsuit.

The allegations come as federal officials weigh the fate of TikTok in the U.S. amid growing concerns over security and data privacy. To help ease concerns, TikTok has reportedly been discussing the possibility of a split from ByteDance.

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EXECUTIVES AT TIKTOK AND PARENT COMPANY BYTEDANCE HAVE LONG MAINTAINED THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT HAVE ACCESS TO TIK TOK USER DATA STORED IN THE U.S.

HOWEVER — ACCORDING TO A RECENT LAWSUIT — THAT MAY NOT BE THE CASE.

IN A WRONGFUL TERMINATION LAWSUIT — FORMER BYTEDANCE EXECUTIVE YINTAO YU CLAIMED CHINA “MAINTAINED SUPREME ACCESS” TO BYTEDANCE DATA — AND THAT BYTEDANCE QUOTE “HAS SERVED AS A USEFUL PROPAGANDA TOOL FOR THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY.”

AMONG THE LIST OF CLAIMS IN THE SUIT — YU SAID THE C-C-P HAD A SPECIAL OFFICE WITHIN BYTEDANCE.

THIS OFFICE “PLAYED A SIGNIFICANT ROLE” IN QUOTE “GUIDING HOW THE COMPANY ADVANCED CORE COMMUNIST VALUES.”

ACCORDING TO THE SUIT — THE C-C-P COULD ACCESS U-S USER DATA VIA A BACKDOOR CHANNEL IN THE COMPANY’S CODE.

YU ALSO SAID BYTEDANCE WAS RESPONSIVE TO C-C-P REQUESTS TO SHARE INFORMATION — AS WELL AS “ELEVATE OR REMOVE” CERTAIN CONTENT.

IN A STATEMENT RESPONDING TO THE LAWSUIT — A SPOKESPERSON FOR BYTEDANCE SAID QUOTE “WE PLAN TO VIGOROUSLY OPPOSE WHAT WE BELIEVE ARE BASELESS CLAIMS AND ALLEGATIONS IN THIS COMPLAINT.”

YU WAS FIRED FROM BYTEDANCE BACK IN 20-18.

HIS LAWSUIT CLAIMS HE WAS LET GO AS RETALIATION FOR RAISING CONCERNS OVER WHAT HE BELIEVED WAS ILLEGAL CONDUCT HAPPENING AT THE COMPANY.