A former employee of ByteDance, developers of TikTok, is suing the company for wrongful termination after being let go in November 2018. Yintao “Roger” Yu is a former engineer for the Chinese internet company and in the new lawsuit, he has made claims that the Chinese Communist Party is able to access international and US data through a “backdoor channel code” in TikTok.
There has always been some concern about how safe your data is on TikTok and whether it can be accessed by the Chinese government. In March 2023, President Biden banned TikTok on all government devices in the US amidst growing concern it could lead to security breaches. In the weeks that followed, Canada, the UK, and Norway were among the countries that also banned the video-sharing platform from government devices.
Mr Yu claims he was fired from his job at ByteDance for his “observation and reporting of illegal conduct.” That included reporting ByteDance was a “useful propaganda tool for the Chinese government.” He also suggested that ByteDance regularly engaged in a “culture of lawlessness” and that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had its own office where it would access all company data, even that stored in the US.
Referred to as “The Committee,” those engaged with the CCP were able to access data from anywhere in the world thanks to a “backdoor channel in the code” according to Mr Yu. With this access, they could monitor business activity, demote certain content and use a switch to turn off Chinese versions of its apps which include Musical.ly, Babe, and Lark.
A spokesperson for ByteDance told The New York Times, “We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint.” He continued, "Mr Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year and his employment ended in July 2018. During his brief time at the company, he worked on an app called Flipagram, which was discontinued years ago for business reasons.”
Although TikTok continues to assure users it does not store or access data, Mr. Yu will no doubt create further worry around TikTok security breaches. More than 150 million US citizens, and 834 million worldwide, use the video-sharing platform for both personal and business which means if TikTok was banned entirely there would be a lot of disgruntled fans – and many losing an income stream.