China’s Internet Watchdog Receives Sensitive Algorithm Info From TikTok Owner ByteDance — Plus Tencent and Alibaba

Cyber Watchdog TikTok ByteDance
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Cyber Watchdog TikTok ByteDance
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Photo Credit: Mourizal Zativa

China’s Internet watchdog organization has received recommendation algorithm details from ByteDance, Tencent, and Alibaba.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) published a list of 30 apps whose operators handed in details of their algorithms for customizing users’ feed and search results. The apps were forced to turn over the data as part of a new algorithm regulation that went into effect in China in March 2022.

These apps must also allow consumers to decline these personalized recommendations generated by the algorithms. Recommendation algorithms create valuable user data that ByteDance insists it doesn’t share with the Chinese government.

But a recent report found that hundreds of employees of ByteDance were at one time, employees of Chinese state media outlets. Forbes surveyed hundreds of LinkedIn profiles to find the connections, finding at least 300 employees who previously worked with Chinese state media. At least 15 of the employees continue to work for both Chinese state media and ByteDance.

“Fifteen indicate that current ByteDance employees are also concurrently employed by Chinese state media entities, including Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International, and China Central/China Global Television,” the report reads. The United States government has labeled these media organizations as ‘foreign government functionaries.’

TikTok continues to come under scrutiny in the United States. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called for both Apple and Google to remove TikTok from its respective app stores in June 2022, citing reports about the sensitive data the app harvests.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. it is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s the sheeps clothing,” Carr wrote at the time. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Digital Music News has chronicled many ways in which TikTok has been caught harvesting this data. That includes sharing data that has been copied to a device’s clipboard for sharing elsewhere. Passwords, cryptocurrency addresses, and sensitive information could have been collected in this manner.