ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, has been accused of allowing members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to access the data of civil rights activists and protesters in Hong Kong. A former ByteDance executive, Yintao Yu, has filed a lawsuit in a US court alleging that users who uploaded protest-related content were also identified and monitored. According to Yu, the CCP members also had access to the data of American TikTok users. ByteDance has categorically denied these allegations, calling them baseless.
the key facts
- Access to data by the CCP: Yintao Yu claims in his lawsuit that members of a CCP committee had access to a “super user” credential known as a “divine user” that allowed them to view all data collected by ByteDance. These members were not ByteDance employees, but were physically present at the company’s offices in Beijing.
- User Surveillance: The plaintiff also alleges that CCP committee members used this badge to “identify and locate Hong Kong protesters, civil rights activists, and protest supporters” in 2018. Hong Kong has been the site of major protests, such as the Umbrella movement in 2014, where the population demanded the right to choose their own leaders.
- Denial of the accusations: A ByteDance spokesperson has strongly denied the allegations, calling them baseless. He has also pointed out that Yintao Yu was employed by the company for less than a year and that he worked on a now-discontinued app called Flipagram. ByteDance questions why Yu has not raised these allegations in the five years since his employment ended.
- TikTok Global Scrutiny: TikTok has been under intense surveillance around the world. In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was questioned for four and a half hours at a US Congressional hearing. He was questioned about the app’s data security and privacy practices, as well as its alleged links to Beijing. TikTok has faced bans in some places, such as the US state of Montana, where a ban is planned to take effect in January 2024.
- Popularity and users of TikTok: Despite the controversy, TikTok is still popular, especially among teens and users in their twenties. The app has approximately 150 million US users.
Impact and future prospects
The allegations of ByteDance, reported by the BBC, allowing CCP members access to the data of activists and protesters in Hong Kong, raise significant concerns about the privacy and security of TikTok users. These developments also intensify international scrutiny on the relationship between ByteDance and the Chinese government.
As TikTok continues to expand and attract millions of users around the world, regulators and governments are expected to continue to closely monitor the company’s practices and take steps to ensure the protection of personal data and the privacy of users. users.
Ultimately, this case underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in data handling by technology companies and highlights the need for stronger regulations to safeguard user rights in the digital age.