Members of the Chinese Communist Party, which governs the country, used data from the company that owns TikTok to identify and locate protesters in Hong Kong, a former executive at ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the popular short video app, said in a legal document.
Yintao Yuwho was ByteDance’s director of engineering in the United States, said those same people had access to user data in the United States, a claim the company denies.
The allegations by Yu, who worked for the firm in 2018, were part of a plea filed in May with the San Francisco Superior Court in a case dismissal proceeding.
In documents sent to the court, he noted that bytedance had keys of “Super user” that allowed a special committee of Chinese Communist Party members assigned to the company to see all data collected by the company, including data from users in the United States.
Those keys served as “backdoor for any barriers ByteDance allegedly installed to protect data from (party) surveillance”, the document stated.
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous Chinese region that has its own government. In recent years, following mass protests in 2014 and 2019, the former British colony has come under increasingly firm control from Beijing.
Yu said the keys were used to track protesters and civil rights activists in Hong Kong by recording their locations and devices, their information network, SIM cards, IP addresses and communications.
ByteDance struck out Yu’s accusations of “unfounded” it’s a statement.
“It is curious that Mr. Yu never raised such allegations in the five years since his contract with Flipagram was terminated in July 2018.″, indicated the firm, alluding to an app that ByteDance closed for business reasons. “His actions are clearly aimed at attracting the attention of the media”.
“We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe to be unsubstantiated claims and allegations in that lawsuit.”, indicated ByteDance.
Charles Jung, a lawyer for Yu and a partner at the law firm Nassiri & Jung, said his client decided to raise the allegations because he was “shocked to hear the recent statement before Congress from the CEO of TikTok“, in which Shou Zi Chewfrom Singapore, strongly denied that the Chinese authorities had access to user data.
“Telling the truth openly in court is risky, but social change requires the courage to tell the truth,” Jung said. “It is important to him that public policy be based on reliable information, so he is determined to tell his story.”
TikTok is under intense scrutiny in the United States and other countries over its data management and the question of whether it poses a national security risk. Some US lawmakers have raised concerns that TikTok’s ties to ByteDance mean that the data it stores is subject to Chinese law.
They also allege that the app, which has more than 150 million monthly active users in the United States and more than 1 billion worldwide, could be used to expand Chinese influence.
In a heated hearing in the House of Representatives last March, lawmakers from both parties questioned Chew about his company’s alleged ties to Beijing, data security and harmful content on the app. Chew denied multiple times that TikTok shared user data or had ties to Chinese authorities.
To ease those concerns, TikTok indicated that it would work with Oracle to store all US data in the country.
In an earlier court document, Yu accused ByteDance of serving as “propaganda tool” for the Chinese Communist Party by promoting nationalist content and demoting content that did not serve the party’s interests. He also said that ByteDance responded promptly to information requests from the Communist Party.
The former executive also accused the company of removing competitor and user content to republish it on its sites and exaggerating important engagement statistics. He said he was fired for expressing his concern about the “inappropriate conduct” that he had observed in others at the company.
In mainland China, ByteDance manages Douyin, which is aimed at the domestic market. TikTok is their global app available in most other countries. It was also available in Hong Kong until TikTok left that market in 2020 following the imposition of a sweeping national security law.
Anyone trying to open TikTok from within HongKong finds a message saying “We regret to inform you that we have stopped operating TikTok in Hong Kong.”.
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