TikTok’s separation from parent ByteDance superficial

Privacy breach. Photo courtesy: Pixabay

#TikTok, #US, #ByteDance, #China, #DataBreach

IBNS-CMEDIA: TikTok allegedly instructed its staff to send information related to American users to its Beijing-based parent company, according to a recent report.

The data purportedly consisted of spreadsheets containing personal details like names, emails, demographics, and location data, the report said citing former employees.

Despite asserting to have largely disconnected from its parent company ByteDance since 2022, TikTok apparently maintained a hidden hierarchy and concealed its close affiliations.

TikTok has strongly refuted these allegations, branding them “fabrications from disgruntled former employees”.

In a post on X, TikTok Policy dismissed the article as “factually inaccurate”.

It went on to add: “Facts matter. FACT: Our secure environment for protected U.S. user data was isolated in January 2023 and is overseen by USDS personnel. After that point, new protected U.S. user data was inaccessible to anyone outside of USDS, including ByteDance and TikTok globally. Limited exceptions exist for legal and compliance purposes.”

The Fortune report was based on interviews with 11 former TikTok employees from August 2022 to April 2023.

One employee revealed that TikTok’s claimed separation from ByteDance was superficial, describing a covert chain of command where US staff still reported to Chinese executives.

He also said that he was tasked with sending US user data to Beijing every two weeks.

Another employee, who had roles in business development at both TikTok and ByteDance in the US, shared insights into Lark, an internal messaging system used by both companies. They claimed that Lark was monitored by ByteDance employees in China, including discussions about US user data.

The level of access the Chinese government has to this data remains unclear, though Chinese law mandates companies to provide data upon government request.