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TikTok Empoyees: China Controls Company’s US Operations

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: December 14, 2021
The Chinese office of TikTok makes the final decision on issues concerning the popular short-form video platform. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

In June this year, U.S. President, Joe Biden, signed an executive order revoking former President Donald Trump’s order that sought to ban TikTok. Trump’s order was based on the consideration that TikTok posed a threat to America’s national security. It was found that ByteDance, the company which owns TikTok, might be transferring user data to China.

In a lawsuit back in Aug. 2020, TikTiok insisted that the app has “not and has never been offered in China.” TikTok has publicly distanced itself from any China ties. ByteDance eventually reorganized its business units in a manner that made a clear distinction between TikTok and its Chinese offerings. However, in a report published by Business Insider on Dec. 10, a group of former and current employees at TikTok reveal that they still take orders from ByteDance headquartered in China.

Discussions on TikTok involve calls with employees at the Chinese headquarters of ByteDance. The final decisions are not made in offices based in the United States or Singapore but in Beijing. In addition to product decisions, tasks like granting a client early access to a new feature and the like are done at the headquarters only.

“It’s that feeling a little bit in the US where you’re sort of helpless to a lot of the decisions that are made out of China,” one former staffer said to the media outlet, who wished to remain anonymous so as to avoid damaging professional relationships.

“Even our internal ticketing system will reroute questions to HQ, eliciting the response, ‘Oh no, it went to HQ’,” said a current staffer anonymously to avoid any retribution from the firm.

TikTok employees have to take part in team calls during late hours due to the time difference between the Beijing and American offices. Though the company does not insist on employees participating in such calls, not attending these meetings might mean that “you’re just not going to get a seat at the table,” a former employee said.

In October, Chloe Shih, an employee at TikTok who left her job that month, uploaded a video to YouTube in which she explained the power conflict between Beijing and American teams. The video has garnered over 150,000 views. She recounts how a proposal that was approved by the U.S. and UK teams was rejected by the Beijing office.

TikTok has 3,500 jobs listed on its website, with none of them in China. Its COO and CEO are located in Singapore and Los Angeles respectively. In the United States, the app is said to have 100 million monthly users. In 2020, TikTok generated over $420 million in revenue globally.