TikTok spied on Hong Kong protestors: former ByteDance executive

Former ByteDance alleges CCP officials spied on Hong Kong activists and protesters in 2018. Image: Dado Ruvic/Reuters.

By Yungdung Tsomo

DHARAMSALA, 14 June: A former head of engineering at ByteDance, Mr Yingtao Yu, has alleged in a US court that China used Tik Tok to spy on Hong Kong protestors. 

Yu stated in the lawsuit that members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee have been established in Beijing which has access to all the data collected by ByteDance, Al Jazeera reported.

This committee, referred to as “god Users”, is physically present in Beijing but is not composed of ByteDance employees. 

The special committee has access to “Protesters’, supporters’, and civil rights activists’ device identifiers, in addition to their network information, SIM card identifications, and IP addresses,” Yu has said in the lawsuit filed in the San Francisco Superior Court last week.

 “This information was used to determine both the user’s identity and location. The TikTok app stores all the users’ direct messages, search histories, content viewed by the users, and duration. From the logs, I saw that the Committee accessed the protestors’, civil rights activists, and supporters’ unique user data, locations, and communications.”

Yu declared that the “god user” presence is well known among byte dance executives and that it has violated the regulation promised to the legislation of the US while some countries are debating whether to ban the Tik Tok over national security issues.

In May, Montana became the first US state to ban the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform. The ban is due to take effect in January 2024, the law will stop app stores from offering the app, Tik Tok. But it will not constrain people from using it in terms of having it already.

ByteDance has sued Montana state for banning the video-sharing platform arguing that it contradicts the freedom of speech and expression in the United state. Montana’s population is just over one million and has banned the app on the government device last December.

The ByteDance spokesperson told Al Jazeera, “It’s curious that Mr Yu has never raised these allegations in the five years since his employment for Flipagram was terminated in July 2018” and added that Yu’s actions are clearly intended to garner media attention as  Mr Yu’s statement came at a time of intense scrutiny on Tik Tok around the world. 

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