05/15/2023, 12.16
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Former TikTok executive: Beijing has access to all data

by John Ai

The former engineering development manager of ByteDancen in the US has filed a lawsuit against the company. In the complaint, TikTok is accused of stealing content from other platforms and of censorship. On Douyin, the Chinese version, the algorithm promotes anti-Japanese content and criticism of the Hong Kong protests. The company lobbies in the US and Europe against the adoption of regulatory measures.

San Francisco (AsiaNews) - In Beijing, inside the headquarters of ByteDance, the technology giant that owns TikTok, there is a special committee of the Chinese Communist Party that monitors the company's apps. This is claimed by Yu Yintao, a former company executive, in a wrongful dismissal complaint filed against the company in San Francisco. In his indictment, the Chinese technician - who was responsible for ByteDance's engineering development in the US from August 2017 to November 2018 - claims that the Party committee would even control a device capable of completely shutting down Chinese apps and would have unlimited access to the database, including data stored in the US.

Yu Yintao claims he was fired for raising concerns about a worldwide scheme to steal other companies' intellectual property. The executive accused ByteDance of copying content from other platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram in its early stages without consent, then publishing it on its own app, as well as 'systematically creating invented users' to increase engagement.

TikTok is now one of the most important social networks globally, but the app in Europe and the US is raising concerns about national security, privacy, disinformation and Chinese propaganda.

A state-owned company in Beijing holds one per cent of ByteDance's shares, but has one member on its board of directors. In recent years, the Chinese government has acquired the shares of Internet giants and appointed board members to strengthen control.

TikTok is launching a costly plan to build data centres abroad, in the US and Ireland, to comply with US and European regulations and demonstrate that the company operates independently of Beijing's influence. But some incidents show that China still has access to data abroad. Earlier this year, for instance, ByteDance admitted that some of its employees, including two in China, tracked journalists to the US.

This month, TikTok censored a documentary about Hong Kong activist and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, who was jailed on National Security Act charges. After the media report, TikTok restored the removed content, claiming that 'TikTok does not moderate content based on political sensitivities'.

In March, ByteDance CEO Shou Zi Chew had defended the company during a US Congressional hearing, dodging questions about the company's ultimate ownership, control of the Chinese Communist Party, and privacy concerns raised by lawmakers.

In his complaint, however, Yu reveals that the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, is being tamed as a propaganda tool by the Chinese authorities. He also accused the company's engineers of using the algorithms to promote hate content against Japan and to make criticism of the Hong Kong protests on Douyin appear more blatant.

Yu claimed that TikTok founder Zhang Yiming allegedly bribed Lu Wei, the deputy head of the Chinese Communist Party's Propaganda Department who was nicknamed the 'internet czar' because he was responsible for regulating the network. Lu Wei was sacked in 2017, but the official media never indicated who it was that paid for the bribery episode for which he was charged.

ByteDance responded to Yu Yintao's complaint by calling it based on "unfounded allegations and allegations".

The United States and the European Union have banned TikTok on civil servants' work devices for security reasons. ByteDance has stepped up its lobbying efforts in the US and has poured in a huge amount of funds, million since 2019, to convince lawmakers and avoid further restrictions.

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