TikTok Employees Say Management Decisions Made by CCP Officials

While TikTok has been moving American users’ data to servers in the U.S. over the last year to ease security concerns, a new report indicates the company’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party present multiple additional problems.

The company has been working on its “Project Texas,” which is aimed at creating cloned systems inside the U.S. that include tracking and analytical tools along with the recommendations algorithm the company’s app uses.

BuzzFeed now reports that it has interviewed a substantial number of current and former employees of the company who say that TikTok’s Chinese parent corporation, ByteDance, are so closely connected that they are indistinguishable.

They said some of the company’s major business decisions are being issued by unknown persons in China. Some managerial decisions are only made after someone has “talked to Beijing.” Ten employees said that they did not know who their managers reported to. One worker said that they had been instructed to enter potentially confidential information into a Chinese .cn domain.

ByteDance is reported to control the TikTok workplace operations and shares interoffice company communications with the Chinese government. That, of course, implies that sensitive information is likely making its way to the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok employees use Lark, a ByteDance workplace platform, for interoffice communications and tasks. The Lark privacy policy states that it can share data stored on its servers in Singapore to assist “any government” in investigations or law enforcement efforts.

Employees based in the U.S. also said they were instructed to use Feishu, a work platform used by ByteDance in its Chinese facilities. The Feishu privacy policy also says that it is permitted to share data stored in China for national security or public safety purposes.

The report indicates that Project Texas does not protect against ways that the Chinese government can exert influence and control over TikTok, including using the app to initiate disinformation operations.

Joe Biden overturned an executive order last year that had been signed by President Donald Trump effectively banning TikTok from U.S. markets. Biden replaced that ban with some guidelines purported to review how TikTok might create risk for American user data security.

Oracle reached a tentative agreement to buy TikTok in 2020 after Trump had said that the only way the platform would be permitted to operate in the U.S. is if it were owned by a domestic company. That sale was abandoned after Biden assumed office.

Oracle has now agreed to maintain all U.S. user data with access limited to an Oracle team, U.S. Tech Services (USTS). There have been no reports regarding what control ByteDance would retain over USTS from Beijing. USTS middle managers reportedly answer to upper executives with ByteDance in China.