Former TikTok employees say there is serious cause for concern when it comes to the popular social media app’s Chinese parent company. TikTok insiders say ByteDance has access to TikTok’s American user data and is closely involved in the Los Angeles company’s decision-making and product development.
The former employees who spoke out said the boundaries between TikTok and ByteDance were so blurry as to be almost non-existent.
Most notably, one employee said that ByteDance employees are able to access U.S. user data. This was highlighted in a situation where an American employee working on TikTok needed to get a list of global users, including Americans, who searched for or interacted with a specific type of content — that means users who searched for a specific term or hashtag or liked a particular category of videos. This employee had to reach out to a data team in China in order to access that information. The data the employee received included users’ specific IDs, and they could pull up whatever information TikTok had about those users. This type of situation was confirmed as a common occurrence by a second employee.
A former TikTok recruiter remembers that her hours were supposed to be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but more often than not, she found herself working double shifts. That’s because the company’s Beijing-based ByteDance executives were heavily involved in TikTok’s decision-making, she said, and expected the company’s California employees to be available at all hours of the day. TikTok employees, she said, were expected to restart their day and work during Chinese business hours to answer their ByteDance counterparts’ questions.
This recruiter, along with four other former employees, indicated they’re deeply concerned about the popular social media app’s Chinese parent company, which they say has access to American user data and is actively involved in the Los Angeles company’s decision-making and product development. These people asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the company.
Some cybersecurity experts worry that the Chinese government could use TikTok to spread propaganda or censorship to American audience, or to exercise influence over users who may come to regret what they posted on and through the service.