TikTok’s owner ByteDance accused of helping China spy on Hong Kong activists

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been accused of allowing Chinese officials to spy on Hong Kong civil rights activists and protestors, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

Members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were granted access to monitor users who uploaded “protest-related content,” former ByteDance executive Yintao Yu alleged in a US court filing. The CCP officials were also reportedly able to access American TikTok user data, according to Yu.

ByteDance has denied the claims, with a spokesperson describing them as “baseless.”

The allegations are part of a lawsuit brought by Yu in a San Francisco Superior Court this week.

In the filings, Yu reportedly claimed that members of the CCP committee had access to a “superuser” credential, also known as “god user,” which allowed them to view all data collected by ByteDance.

According to the BBC, Yu also alleged that the committee members were not ByteDance employees but were physically present at the company’s offices in Beijing.

Senior executives at the company had knowledge of the matter, the BBC reported citing Yu, “who for around a year from August 2017 was a head of engineering in the US for ByteDance.”

Court documents allege that in 2018 the CCP committee members used their “god credential” to “identify and locate the Hong Kong protesters, civil rights activists, and supporters of the protests,” according to the BBC.

Massive protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2014 as part of the so-called Umbrella movement, where protestors demanded the right to elect their own leader. More demonstrations by civil rights activists followed but in smaller capacity. Much of this dissent has been silenced since Beijing’s cracked down on activists with a draconian national security law in 2019.

Maintaining its stance on the matter ByteDance spokesperson strongly denied the allegations.

“We plan to vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Yu was reportedly employed by the company for less than one year and in that time worked on a now-discontinued app called Flipagram, the spokesperson said.

“It’s curious that Mr Yu has never raised these allegations in the five years since his employment for Flipagram was terminated in July 2018. His actions are clearly intended to garner media attention,” they added.

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