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Ex-ByteDance executive accuses Tik-Tok owner of ‘lawlessness’


Yintao Yu, former head of engineering for ByteDance’s U.S. operations, has filed a wrongful dismissal suit accusing the Chinese technology giant of stealing content from rivals Snapchat and Instagram and having a “culture of lawlessness”.

He claims the Beijing office had a unit of Chinese Communist Party members referred to as the Committee, which guided the company in advancing core Communist values, monitored its apps and possessed a “death switch” capable of turning off Chinese apps.

Yu claims ByteDance systematically created fabricated users, an army of bots, to boost engagement numbers, a practice he raised with his superiors.

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He says he also witnessed engineers for Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, elevate content expressing hatred for Japan.

Yu accuses ByteDance engineers of demoting content expressing support for Hong Kong democracy protests while promoting content critical of the protests.


 He also alleges ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming facilitated bribes to Lu Wei, a senior government official charged with internet regulation.

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TikTok has been under scrutiny for its relationship with its parent company and potential Chinese influence, amid concerns that the app is passing sensitive information about Americans to Beijing.

More than two dozen states have banned TikTok from government devices since November.

TikTok has sought to convince lawmakers that it operates independently from ByteDance and says the Chinese government has no special access to the app.

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It has been working on a plan to store American user data on servers operated by Oracle in the U.S. to alleviate concerns.

Yu said during his tenure, American user data on TikTok was stored in the U.S. but engineers in China had access to it, rendering the geographic location of the servers irrelevant.

Yu’s suit demands lost earnings, punitive damages and 220,000 ByteDance shares that had not vested by the time he was dismissed.

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The shares would be worth tens of millions of dollars.

Yu’s claims about ByteDance’s practices and CCP influence are surfacing amid increasing national scrutiny of TikTok’s relationship with China.

Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has stated TikTok “screams out with national security concerns”.

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In March, a congressional committee grilled TikTok’s CEO, Shou Chew, about the app’s Chinese ownership.

While ByteDance has said it will “vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint”,

Yu’s allegations pose a significant risk to TikTok’s reputation, given concerns about CCP influence and privacy implications.

The company has been working to quell concerns about its ownership and user data, but these claims are unlikely to help.

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If Yu’s allegations are found to be true, they could raise significant legal and ethical concerns for TikTok, given its status as a popular social media app used by millions of Americans.

The lawsuit also highlights the challenges that Chinese tech firms face when operating in the U.S. market, where there is growing suspicion of China’s ambitions and practices in the tech industry.

Given the current geopolitical climate and increasing concerns about privacy and security, this lawsuit could be a significant blow to ByteDance and its popular social media platform, TikTok.

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