TikTok Whistleblower Says Chinese Communist Party Has Backdoor Access to American User Data

China ByteDance TikTok backdoor lawsuit alleges CCP had access to U.S. user data

Photo Credit: Solen Feyissa

A former ByteDance executive fired from the company has filed a lawsuit alleging the company has backdoor access to U.S. user data in China.

The lawsuit alleges that ByteDance stole content from competitors like Instagram and Snapchat and served as a propaganda tool for the Chinese government by suppressing or promoting content favorable to the country’s interests. These allegations have been discussed in the United States for months now, with FBI Director Christopher Wray urging Congress to take action against the app.

The latest allegations surfaced in a complaint filed by Yintao Yu, the Head of Engineering for ByteDance U.S. operations from August 2017 to November 2018. They come as part of a wrongful termination suit filed earlier this month in San Francisco Superior Court. Yu says he was fired from his job for disclosing wrongful conduct he witnessed while employed at the company.

The complaint says the Chinese government monitored ByteDance’s work from within its Beijing headquarters. It also says the CCP offered guidance to ByteDance on advancing “core communist values.” The suit also alleges that CCP government officials had the ability to turn off the Chinese versions of ByteDance—while also maintaining access to all company data including that stored in the United States.

TikTok says it has never handed U.S. user data to the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked. However, one hardly needs to ‘hand over’ data when an engineering backdoor to access said data is built into the system. Further in the lawsuit, Yu alleges that the CCP used the app to stoke anti-Japanese sentiment on the Chinese version of TikTok called Douyin.

Yu also alleges that ByteDance developed software that would scrape user content from other sites, like Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube—without the original creator’s permission. The company then reposted the content on its own websites, including TikTok, in order to attract more engagement from users in the fledling days of the app.