In a surprising development, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, faces allegations of allowing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members to access the data of Hong Kong civil rights activists and protesters. Former executive Yintao Yu claims that users uploading “protest-related content” were targeted and monitored, with CCP members reportedly having access to US TikTok user data. ByteDance strongly denies these claims, considering them baseless. The allegations surfaced in a lawsuit filed by Mr. Yu in San Francisco Superior Court.

Startling Revelations: CCP Committee Members Had “God User” Access

According to Mr. Yu’s court filing, members of a CCP committee had a “superuser” credential, known as “god user,” granting them unrestricted access to all data collected by ByteDance. Interestingly, these committee members were not ByteDance employees but physically present at the company’s Beijing offices. Senior executives were reportedly aware of this arrangement. Mr. Yu, who served as a head of engineering in the US for ByteDance, made these assertions in the court documents.

 Targeting Hong Kong Activists: CCP Members Identified and Monitored

The filing claims that CCP committee members used their “god credential” to “identify and locate Hong Kong protesters, civil rights activists, and protest supporters” in 2018. Hong Kong witnessed significant protests, including the Umbrella Movement in 2014, which demanded the right to choose their own leader. Although visible dissent has decreased since the enactment of a stringent national security law by Beijing in response to the 2019 anti-government protests, civil rights activists continued to stage smaller demonstrations.

ByteDance’s Denial and TikTok’s Global Scrutiny

A spokesperson from ByteDance vehemently denied the allegations, vowing to vigorously contest the claims made in the lawsuit, which they consider baseless. The spokesperson emphasized that Mr. Yu’s employment at ByteDance was brief and focused on a discontinued app called Flipagram. They expressed curiosity as to why these allegations were not raised earlier, considering Mr. Yu’s employment ended in July 2018, and suggested possible motives for seeking media attention.

These accusations come at a time when TikTok faces global scrutiny. TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, recently faced extensive questioning during a US congressional hearing regarding the app’s data security, privacy practices, and alleged ties to Beijing. Montana became the first US state to pass a comprehensive ban on the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform, effective January 2024. TikTok, however, filed a lawsuit to block Montana’s ban, citing conflicts with free speech rights. Despite the controversies, TikTok maintains its popularity, particularly among teenagers and users in their twenties, boasting over 150 million American users.

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