Ex-Employees Claim TikTok Shared Data With ByteDance Workers in China

Ex-TikTok Employees Say They Shared U.S. User Data With China-Based ByteDance
TikTok Bytedance Data BAIVECTOR/Shutterstock Ascannio/Shutterstock

From the outset of TikTok’s legal battle over its future in the US, TikTok CEO Shou Chew has remained adamant that TikTok is separate from its China-based parent company ByteDance.

But in an April 15 investigation by Fortune, 11 former employees have alleged that TikTok’s ties with ByteDance are closer than they appear. In fact, TikTok employed some of these workers as recently as last year.

Does TikTok share data with ByteDance?

Former senior data scientist Evan Taylor, who worked at TikTok in 2022, said he had a Seattle-based manager on paper. But in practice, he answered to a ByteDance manager in Beijing. And that wasn’t Taylor’s only revelation.

“I literally worked on a project that gave US data to China,” Turner said. “There were Americans that were working in upper management that were completely complicit in this.”

Turner said part of his job throughout 2022 was sending spreadsheets of user information to Beijing-based employees. This was around when Project Texas, a $1.5 billion initiative by TikTok to secure US data on local servers, began in early 2022.

TikTok says that as of June 2022, “100% of US traffic” goes to US servers and infrastructure.

What software does ByteDance share with TikTok?

Patrick Spaulding Ryan, TikTok’s lead technical program manager for security engineering until 2022, also told Fortune that TikTok and ByteDance shared Lark, an internal communication software similar to Slack.

ByteDance owns and operates Lark. That means ByteDance employees could potentially view discussions by TikTok employees on Lark about US data. 

Nnete Matima, a former business development employee at TikTok and ByteDance, told Fortune that prospective customers often asked her how Lark stored data. But she never got a straight answer.

“You could never really get any straight answers that could be solid enough to bring back to your client to basically let them know that this is a trustworthy platform, and that their American data is safe,” she said. “They are not transparent to the point where I had to lose a deal because I couldn’t answer basic security questions that people are entitled to.”

In response to these allegations, a TikTok spokesperson stated, “These are completely unfounded assertions brought forth by disgruntled ex-employees. It is incredible that Fortune would solely rely on individuals with clear motives and agendas to spread anonymous lies and distortions.” 

Did the US approve the bill to ban TikTok?

This investigation comes just a month after the House of Representatives passed a bill that gives ByteDance two options. Sell its stake in TikTok to a US-based company within six months, or face a permanent, nationwide ban.

The Senate will vote on the bill in the coming months, leaving the platform’s creators with an uncertain future. Experts anticipate legal challenges in the Senate.

Further reading:

Content for Creators.

News, tips, and tricks delivered to your inbox twice a week.

Newsletter Signup

Top Stories