Former employees of the video-based social influencing platform TikTok and its parent company, Beijing-headquartered ByteDance, have expressed deep concerns over inferior data segregation between U.S. and China, along with the shocking treatment of employees,
The update states that it will harvest data by “identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your User Content,” in addition to collecting biometric data on its users, who are mostly children under 18.
Some cyber experts have warned that the Chinese Communist Party CCP could use TikTok to spread propaganda, censor content, or sway users who may regret what they publish later in life. Through TikTok, the CCP spreads its videos to Americans, whilst it gets to pick what types of content to censor.
Some instances of this have already transpired. For example, a September 2019 report in The Guardian describes how the company told moderators to censor videos that discuss Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or Falun Gong meditation.
The leadership at Beijing’s ByteDance is responsible for all decisions over the American side of TikTok, including subsidiary contracts and management plans.
In an interview with CNBC, former employees said the vast majority of TikTok’s product development is led by employees in mainland China. The separation between the two companies is so indistinct, employees have described having emails from both TikTok and ByteDance.
In addition to this, whistleblowers said employees have to work unrealistic double shifts to fulfill the demands of employers and participate in meetings with their counterparts in Beijing after U.S. working hours.
CNBC wrote, “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.”
The CNBC report further stated a recruiter and four former employees expressed concern about ByteDance having direct access to U.S. user data.
The whistleblowers asked to remain incognito for fear of backlash from their employers.
An American employee working forTikTok described how he was asked to compile a report which users, including Americans, were searching for or interacting with a particular type of content. To access that information, he had to contact a data team in China. The employee received users’ specifics and IDs, and said he could access any information TikTok had about them.
The second employee confirmed that such situations happen every day.
Wallroom Media estimates TikTok has over a billion monthly users globally, at least a hundred million are Americans, and there have been more than 2.6 billion downloads of the app. In January 2021 alone, there were 62 million downloads.
App users over the age of 18 download the app from mobile devices in the U.S. each month, and more than 32 percent are in the age group of 10 to 19.
TikTok is the second-most popular social network app in the U.S. among young adults after Snapchat.
TikTok Net Worth: $50 Billion
A 2020 report by Reuters stated approximately 70 percent of the equity capital ByteDance raised from outside investors came from the United States.
Former President Donald Trump attempted last year to force TikTok to merge with a U.S. company or ban the app in the U.S. in response to national security concerns. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in comments at the Munich Security Conference that ByteDance and other companies controlled by the CCP, such as Huawei, were “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”
In June, Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, signed an Executive Order revoking Trump’s order banning TikTok unless it found a U.S. buyer.
However, the Cybersecurity Policy & Research Institute Executive Director Bryan Cunningham strongly criticized TikTok’s policy calling it an opportunity for Chinese authorities to gather information.
He said, “If the legal authorities in China or their parent company demand the data, users have already given them the legal right to turn it over.”