Ex ByteDance Staffer Alleges Beijing Had ‘Supreme Access’ To All Data

surveillance, spyware, hacking

Lawsuit from former ByteDance staffer alleges China’s Communist Party had “supreme access” to all TikTok data, including US servers

ByeDance’s former head of engineering for US operations has levelled very damaging allegations against his former employer.

Yintao “Roger” Yu filed a lawsuit of wrongful termination against the parent of TikTok, Bytedance, in Superior Court in San Francisco earlier this month, CNN reported.

CNN has seen the wrongful termination lawsuit, which alleges that China’s Communist Party had “supreme access” to all data held by Bytedance, including on servers in the United States.

ByteDance, TikTok
TikTok owner ByteDance. Image credit: ByteDance

Damaging allegations

That damaging claim comes as ByteDance continues attempts to reassure lawmakers in the United States and other nations, amid concerns at the national security implications of the use of TikTok – centred around how much data access Beijing has on TikTok users.

CNN noted that Bytedance had denied the allegations in the lawsuit and had vowed to contest it.

Yintao “Roger” Yu had said he worked at ByteDance from August 2017 to November 2018, as a head of engineering for US operations.

In a new complaint filed last Friday, Yu claimed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had a special office in the company, sometimes referred to as the “Committee,” which monitored Bytedance and “guided how it advanced core Communist values.”

“The Committee maintained supreme access to all the company data, even data stored in the United States,” the complaint obtained by CNN reads.

Data access

Yu’s lawsuit explosively alleges that ByteDance made user data accessible to China’s Communist Party via a backdoor channel, no matter where the data was located.

Yu also claimed that he had observed Bytedance being “responsive to the CCP’s requests” to share, elevate or even remove content, describing Bytedance as “useful propaganda tool” for Beijing’s leaders.

A Bytedance spokesperson has denied Yu’s allegations, saying he worked on an app called Flipagram while at the company, which was discontinued due to business reasons.

“We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint,” the spokesperson told CNN.

“Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year and his employment ended in July 2018,” which Yu disputed in his complaint.

Valuable content

Earlier reporting from Yu’s lawsuit detailed how shortly after he began his job, he realised that ByteDance had for years engaged in what he called a “worldwide scheme” to steal and profit from the content of others.

According to the CNN report, the scheme involved using software purposely unleashed to “systematically” strip user content from competitors’ websites, chiefly Instagram and Snapchat, and populate its own video services without asking for permission.

The former ByteDance employee alleged he was “troubled by ByteDance’s efforts to skirt legal and ethical lines.”

Yu is seeking compensatory damages such as lost earnings, injunctive relief and liquidated and punitive damages.

This week Montana became the first US state ban TikTok, with mobile operators, carriers, and app store owners soon to be at risk of daily fines for breaking the rules on TikTok usage in Montana.