Concerns have arisen among TikTok employees over the perceived growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) due to the appointment of executives from its parent company, ByteDance, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Recent appointments have seen several top executives from ByteDance’s Chinese team taking significant roles within TikTok’s U.S. operations. Internally, some employees feel this might reflect a more profound CCP influence than officially acknowledged, given ByteDance’s regulatory obligations to the CCP. Such ties have historically fueled worries about the potential for ByteDance to share user information with the Chinese government, sparking fears over the privacy of American users.
In 2021, TikTok was seemingly distinct from ByteDance, leading U.S. employees to believe they had increased autonomy. However, the tide seemed to turn in 2023 as ByteDance’s executives played a more pivotal role in TikTok, hinting at an intensified Chinese influence. These ByteDance executives have settled in various TikTok departments, including advertising, HR, monetization, and e-commerce. Some even relocated with their entire teams from ByteDance’s Beijing base.
A past ByteDance executive mentioned in a legal document that specific CCP members might possess unique access capabilities, potentially enabling them to access U.S. user data on TikTok. This document could purportedly allow them to retrieve details such as network data, SIM card IDs, and IP addresses, making user identification and tracking possible.
In the past, President Joe Biden had threatened TikTok with a potential U.S. ban if it didn’t distance itself from ByteDance. However, negotiations ensued to prevent this ban. In August 2022, ByteDance proposed a plan suggesting transferring control over TikTok’s U.S. operations to a three-member board selected by the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. However, no action on this has been reported yet.
According to documents acquired by Forbes, TikTok has stored financial data of numerous TikTok creators and businesses, including sensitive information like Social Security numbers and tax IDs, in China.
Despite TikTok CEO Shou Chew’s testimony in March stating that American user data is stored in Virginia and Singapore, evidence from Forbes suggests otherwise. The data indicates that after creators and businesses provided their financial information for payment purposes, it was saved on servers in China accessible to employees.