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  • Writer's pictureScott Newell

"God User" Status: Ex-ByteDance Executive Claims TikTok Granted CCP Unprecedented Access


God User Status on TikTok

A former high-level executive at ByteDance has made startling claims regarding the company's data privacy practices. The allegations suggest that ByteDance has a "back door channel" in its code, enabling members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to access user data from around the world, including the US and Hong Kong. These accusations, if proven true, would validate concerns expressed by lawmakers worldwide who have sought to restrict TikTok due to national security concerns.

Allegations of Data Access and CCP Involvement: The claims were made by Yintao "Roger" Yu, a former US head of engineering at ByteDance, in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the company. Yu asserts that the app's underlying code contains a back door channel through which the CCP can access user data. He further alleges a close relationship between government officials and ByteDance, with the CCP having a "special office" within the company. Yu claims that CCP officials were granted "superuser" credentials, allowing them unrestricted access to all data collected by ByteDance.

ByteDance's Response and Counterarguments: A spokesperson for ByteDance dismissed Yu's claims as an attempt to gain media attention, describing them as baseless and unsubstantiated. The company plans to vigorously oppose the lawsuit. ByteDance also highlighted that Yu's employment with Flipagram, a now-discontinued app, was terminated in 2018, and he had never raised these allegations until now.

Implications for User Privacy and TikTok's CEO Testimony: Yu's allegations extend beyond data access, painting a picture of a "culture of lawlessness" within ByteDance. He claims that the company engaged in a systematic scraping of user content from other sites to bolster the popularity of ByteDance apps, as well as the creation of fake users to inflate metrics. These actions, according to Yu, were undertaken without permission from content creators and represented unlawful practices.

The timing of the lawsuit coincides with concerns raised by lawmakers about Communist party influence at ByteDance, to which TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew provided ambiguous responses during a recent Congressional hearing. Chew admitted that ByteDance employees had access to US user data but asserted that this would change once the company's US data routing plan with Oracle, known as "Project Texas," is completed. Chew vehemently denied allegations that TikTok moderates content on behalf of the Chinese communist party.

Growing Calls for Restricting TikTok: Amidst the ongoing controversies, the appetite for restrictions on TikTok is increasing. Several proposals have been introduced in Congress, aiming to ban TikTok from private US devices on national security grounds. Individual states, such as Montana, have already taken steps to ban downloads of the app, which is facing legal challenges.

The allegations made by the former executive at ByteDance raise significant concerns regarding data privacy and potential CCP involvement. The lawsuit and subsequent developments have intensified the debate around TikTok's operations and its impact on national security. As scrutiny grows, both ByteDance and TikTok face mounting pressure to address these allegations and assuage the concerns of lawmakers and users regarding data security.

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