TikTok: ByteDance accused of helping China spy on Hong Kong activists

3 months ago 10

A smartphone with a displayed TikTok logo connected  a machine  motherboard.Image source, Reuters

By Peter Hoskins

Business reporter

TikTok's proprietor ByteDance has been accused of allowing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members to entree the information of Hong Kong civilian rights activists and protesters.

Users who uploaded "protest-related content" were besides identified and monitored, erstwhile ByteDance enforcement Yintao Yu alleges successful a US tribunal filing.

The CCP members were besides capable to entree US TikTok idiosyncratic data, Mr Yu says.

A ByteDance spokesperson denied the claims, describing them arsenic "baseless".

The allegations are contained successful a San Francisco Superior Court filing made this week arsenic portion of a suit brought by Mr Yu.

In the filing, Mr Yu claimed that members of a CCP committee had entree to a "superuser" credential, which was besides known arsenic "god user", which allowed them to presumption each information collected by ByteDance.

He besides alleged that the committee members were not ByteDance employees but were physically contiguous astatine the company's offices successful Beijing.

This was communal cognition among elder executives, said Mr Yu, who for astir a twelvemonth from August 2017 was a caput of engineering successful the US for ByteDance.

The filing besides alleged that successful 2018 the CCP committee members utilized their "god credential" to "identify and find the Hong Kong protesters, civilian rights activists, and supporters of the protests".

Hong Kong saw immense protests successful 2014 - the alleged Umbrella question - wherever radical demanded the close to elite their ain leader. After that, determination were smaller demonstrations by civilian rights activists. Much of this disposable dissent has disappeared since the 2019 anti-government protests and the ensuing crackdown by Beijing.

When contacted by the BBC, a ByteDance spokesperson powerfully denied the allegations: "We program to vigorously reason what we judge are baseless claims and allegations successful this complaint."

They besides said that Mr Yu was employed by the institution for little than a twelvemonth and successful that clip worked worked connected a now-discontinued app called Flipagram.

"It's funny that Mr Yu has ne'er raised these allegations successful the 5 years since his employment for Flipagram was terminated successful July 2018. His actions are intelligibly intended to garner media attention," the ByteDance spokesperson added.

Mr Yu's claims travel arsenic TikTok is nether aggravated scrutiny astir the world.

In March, TikTok's main enforcement Shou Zi Chew faced four-and-a-half hours of questioning astatine a US legislature hearing.

Mr Chew was quizzed by some Democrats and Republicans implicit the app's information information and privateness practices, and its alleged ties to Beijing.

A spokesperson for TikTok said afterwards that the politicians were "grandstanding".

In May, Montana became the archetypal US authorities to walk a sweeping prohibition connected the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform.

The prohibition is owed to instrumentality effect successful January 2024. It volition marque it amerciable for app stores to connection TikTok, but does not prohibition radical who already person TikTok from utilizing it.

TikTok has sued to artifact Montana from imposing the ban, saying it conflicts with US escaped code rights. Montana, which has a colonisation of conscionable implicit 1 million, banned the app connected authorities devices past December.

TikTok says it has 150m American users. Although the app's idiosyncratic basal has expanded successful caller years, it is inactive astir fashionable with teenagers and users successful their 20s.

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