I am a former executive The Bite Dancethe Chinese company that owns Tick tockhas accused the tech giant of a “culture of lawlessness”, including stealing content from rival platforms Snapchat and Instagram in its early years, and called the company a “useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party”.
The claims were part of a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit filed Friday by Yantao Yu, who was head of engineering for ByteDance’s U.S. operations from August 2017 to November 2018. The complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, said Mr. Yu was fired because of concerns about a “worldwide scheme” to steal and exploit the intellectual property of other companies. expressed.
One of the most surprising claims in Mr. Yu’s lawsuit is that ByteDance’s offices in Beijing had a special unit of Chinese Communist Party members, sometimes called a committee, that oversaw the company’s apps. , “guided how the company promotes core communist values” with a “death switch” that could shut down Chinese apps entirely.
“The committee has maintained extensive access to all company data, even data stored in the United States,” the complaint said.
Mr Yu’s claims, which describe how ByteDance worked five years ago, come as TikTok is facing intense national scrutiny. on its relationship with its parent company and China’s potential influence on the platform. The video app, used by more than 150 million Americans, has become extremely popular for memes and entertainment. But lawmakers and US officials are concerned that the app is passing sensitive information about Americans to Beijing.
In March, a congressional committee Girl TikTok’s chief executive, Shu Chiu, about Chinese ownership of the app. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray recently said that TikTok “screams with national security concerns.” in more than two dozen states. Banned on TikTok from official instruments since November.
In an emailed statement, ByteDance said Friday that the company “will vigorously contest the unfounded claims and allegations in this complaint.”
“Mr. Yu worked at ByteDance Inc. for less than a year and was terminated in July 2018. During his short time at the company, he worked on an app called Flipgram, which was discontinued for business reasons. The building was closed years ago,” the statement said.
In his complaint, Mr. Yu, 36, said that as TikTok tried to attract users in its early days, ByteDance’s engineers copied videos and posts from Snapchat and Instagram without permission and then Posted on App. It also claimed that ByteDance “systematically created fake users” – essentially an army of bots – to boost engagement numbers, a process Mr Yu said He gave the flag to his superiors.
Mr. Yu says he raised these concerns with Zhou Wenjia, who was in charge of the TikTok algorithm, but Mr. Zhou was “dismissed” and remarked that “it’s not a big deal.”
Mr. Yu, who spent part of his ByteDance tenure working in offices in China, said he also saw engineers at Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, uploading hateful content to Japan. Change the algorithm for In an interview, he said that the promotion of anti-Japanese sentiment, which would make him more visible to consumers, was done without hesitation.
He said that there was no discussion. “They just did it.”
The lawsuit also accused ByteDance engineers of demoing content working on Chinese apps that expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, while more prominently criticizing the protests.
In one example of what was described as “lawlessness” within the company, the lawsuit alleges that ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, facilitated the bribes. Love Va senior government official charged with internet regulation. Chinese media at the time covered the trial of Luo Wei, who was charged and subsequently convicted of bribery in 2018, but there was no mention of who paid the bribes. was
TikTok has tried to convince lawmakers that it operates at arm’s length from ByteDance and that the Chinese government has no influence or special access to the app. It is working on an expensive project known as Project Texas to store US user data on servers operated by Oracle in the United States.
Mr. Yu, who was born and raised in China and now lives in San Francisco, said in the interview that American user data on TikTok was stored in the United States during his tenure with the company. But engineers in China had access to it, he said.
The geographic location of the servers is “irrelevant,” he said, since engineers can be a continent away but still have access. During his tenure at the company, he said, some engineers had “backdoor” access to user data.
His lawsuit seeks lost earnings, punitive damages and 220,000 ByteDance shares that he did not receive by the time he was fired. The complaint does not cite a specific dollar amount in damages, but the value of the shares alone would be in the tens of millions of dollars. The lawsuit was filed after years of unsuccessful mediation with the company.
Mr. Yu is represented by Charles Jung, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in employment disputes.