Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

Chinese Communist Party Had 'Supreme Access' to TikTok Parent Company ByteDance's Data, Former Executive Says Yintao Yu, a former ByteDance executive, is filing a wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the company and alleging it engaged in "lawlessness."

By Madeline Garfinkle Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Emmanuel Wong | Getty Images
Outside ByteDance office in Beijing, China on August 4, 2020.

The ongoing debate over whether or not TikTok parent company ByteDance has access to user data has become less a question of "Does it or doesn't it?" and more "Just how much does it have? And who exactly has access to it?"

Yintao Yu, who served as the U.S. head of engineering at ByteDance from August 2017 to November 2018, alleges that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had "supreme access" to all ByteDance data, including that of U.S. users, The New York Times reported.

Yu, who is suing the company for wrongful dismissal, claims that the CCP had a designated unit at ByteDance's Beijing office — sometimes referred to as the "Committee" — and members of the CCP monitored the company and "guided how it advanced core Communist values," per the complaint.

"The Committee maintained supreme access to all the company data, even data stored in the United States," the lawsuit alleges. Although members of the committee didn't officially work for ByteDance, the CCP "played a significant role," and the tech giant became a "useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party."

Related: TikTok Tracked People Who Viewed Gay Content, Categorizes Users In 'Clusters'

The data was made available to the CCP through a "backdoor channel," Yu claims, and included all company data regardless of location — making U.S. user data no exception.

In his lawsuit, Yu also accuses the company of "lawlessness," citing one example of ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming bribing Lu Wei, a senior government official in charge of internet regulation.

Yu also alleges the company used questionable practices to increase engagement on TikTok, such as posting copied content from Instagram and Snapchat without permission and deploying "fabricated users," which were essentially bots made to interact with content and boost engagement numbers.

"We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations," a ByteDance spokesperson told Entrepreneur.

Additionally, there seems to be a debate over Yu's tenure with the company. Although he claims to have worked at ByteDance for nearly 16 months, a spokesperson said he was with the company for less than a year.

"Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance Inc. for less than a year and his employment ended in July 2018," the spokesperson said — a claim that Yu is also disputing in his lawsuit.

Yu's complaint — baseless or not — is based on ByteDance's operations five years ago and may not apply to its current data practices. Still, it comes at a time when the company faces intense scrutiny in the U.S. over data privacy concerns.

Related: Why Is the U.S. Threatening to Ban TikTok? The Government Wants Chinese Owners to Sell Stakes

Madeline Garfinkle

News Writer

Madeline Garfinkle is a News Writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate from Syracuse University, and received an MFA from Columbia University. 

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business News

TikTok Reportedly Laid Off a 'Large Percentage' of Employees as the App's Fate in the U.S. Remains Unclear

Laid-off TikTok employees were notified Wednesday night through Thursday morning.

Business News

Four Seasons Orlando Responds to Viral TikTok: 'There's Something Here For All Ages'

The video has amassed over 45.4 million views on TikTok.

Business News

More People Are Exploring Entrepreneurship Because of This Unexpected Reason

More new business applications were filed in 2023 than in any other year so far.

Personal Finance

This Investment Bundle Includes a Trading Course and Stock Screener Tool for $150

Approach the stock market with an increased understanding.

Growing a Business

5 Strategies to Know As You Scale Your Business

Scaling a service-based company requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond simply increasing revenue. It requires careful planning, strategic decision-making and a deep understanding of market dynamics.