Report: Chinese Company Repeatedly Accessed Data of American TikTok Users
In September 2020, former US President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting the social media app from being used across the nation; however, the move was vetoed shortly after US President Joe Biden took office in early 2021.
The Chinese company ByteDance, a parent firm of TikTok had access to American consumers' data for months even though its employees in the US did not, BuzzFeed News reported.
According to leaked audio, obtained by the outlet, over 80 internal - recorded - TikTok meetings took place between September 2021 and January 2022. It reportedly revealed that US staff were not allowed to access user data and had to rely on Chinese personnel to do so.
The tapes reportedly comprise 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees, showing that Chinese engineers had access to US data at the very least between September 2021 and January 2022.
Despite a TikTok executive's sworn testimony in a Senate hearing in October 2021 that a "world-renowned, US-based security team" decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees allegedly describe situations in which US employees had to rely on their Chinese colleagues to figure out how American user data was flowing.
According to the report, US personnel did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the material on their own.
Moreover, the tapes supposedly imply that the company may have misled lawmakers, consumers, and the general public by downplaying the possibility that data held in the US may be viewed by Chinese personnel, per BuzzFeed.
An undisclosed TikTok director reportedly referred to a ByteDance engineer as a "Master Admin" who "has access to everything" on the audio.
ByteDance is compelled by Chinese law to give its data with the Communist Party of China whenever it is requested, according to reports.
In a statement to Business Insider this Friday, the company reportedly emphasized that it worked to strengthen its own security and guarantee the US-based servers to store American users' data.
"In May, we created a new in-house department, US Data Security (USDS), with US-based leadership, to provide a greater level of focus and governance on US data security," the spokesperson is quoted as saying. "The creation of this organization is part of our ongoing effort and commitment to strengthen our data protection policies and protocols, further protect our users, and build confidence in our systems and controls."
Because of its Chinese roots and the alleged links to the government, the video-sharing app has come under fire from legislators in the US, and particularly Republicans.
The Trump administration attempted to ban the platform late in his presidential term, preventing American users from downloading it, and then tried to force the app's owner to relocate its operations to the US soil and delegate management to an American firm.
In mid-July 2021, a US appeals court in Washington granted the Department of Justice's plea to dismiss a Trump-era bid to overturn the TikTok ban suspension.