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Former head of TikTok’s parent company claims China ‘maintained’ access to US data

A former executive of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has claimed that the Chinese government “maintained” access to the company’s US data.

Yintao Yu, who served as chief engineering officer of ByteDance’s US operations from August 2017 to November 2018, filed a lawsuit earlier this month in California Superior Court for San Francisco County alleging wrongful termination for acting as a whistleblower and disclosing what Yu believed to be be unethical and illegal practice.

He alleged in a complaint filed on Friday that the Chinese Communist Party has used ByteDance as a “propaganda tool” to suppress or promote content based on what is favorable to the country̵[ads1]7;s interests.

The complaint alleges that the Chinese government has been able to monitor ByteDance’s work from its Beijing headquarters and has instructed the company to promote “core communist values.”

“The committee maintained sovereign access to all company data, including data stored in the United States,” the complaint states.

He told The New York Times in an interview that he saw engineers for the Chinese version of TikTok push content that spread anti-Japanese sentiment. Yu explained that data for US users of TikTok was stored in the US while he worked for the company, but engineers in China still had access to it.

The social media platform TikTok, which ByteDance owns, has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months over its data security practices.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in late March, where he was grilled by members of both parties on topics such as the app’s alleged threats to national security, data privacy and risks to minors.

Lawmakers in general have expressed concern that TikTok, through ByteDance, could be required to provide US data to the Chinese government through a 2017 national security law that requires Chinese companies to provide requested information to Chinese intelligence agencies.

TikTok and ByteDance executives have argued that the company is independent of the Chinese government and not subject to its requests.

The Hill has reached out to ByteDance for comment.

The controversy surrounding TikTok has prompted lawmakers at the federal and state levels to take action to restrict or try to ban the platform. About three dozen states have banned TikTok from their state-owned devices, and the federal government has also banned it on devices used by federal employees.

Some lawmakers have also called for banning TikTok entirely in the United States.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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