Ex ByteDance manager sues company for illegal practices

Ex-ByteDance manager sues company for illegal practices

A former executive of ByteDance in the US is suing his former employer, TikTok’s parent company, who he alleges fired him for drawing attention to the company’s illegal practices.

Many American elected officials want to ban TikTok in the United States. They assure that the popular platform allows Beijing to collect user data and influence their opinion without their knowledge, which the application has always denied.

According to the lawsuit, filed May 1 in a San Francisco court, shortly after being hired in California in the summer of 2017, Yintao Yu discovered that ByteDance was “stealing” videos posted on competing networks, Instagram and Snapchat, to make them available in its own services.

Mr. Yu, who was the technical director of ByteDance in the US, then alarmed his superiors to no avail, “and the intellectual property theft continued unhindered.” He was released in November 2018.

On Friday, the plaintiff filed an amended lawsuit accusing ByteDance of serving “as a propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party” (CCP).

Mr. Yu says he saw ByteDance highlighting content “expressing hatred of Japan” and banning content “expressing support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.”

According to the former employee, the CCP “had unrestricted access to all company data, including data stored in the United States, at all times.”

ByteDance intends to fight “vigorously” against “these unsubstantiated claims and allegations,” a company spokesman contacted by AFP said.

“Mr. Yu worked for ByteDance for less than a year (…) He was responsible for an app called Flipagram, which was pulled from the market years ago for commercial reasons,” he added.

The engineer is seeking an injunction to compel the company to stop the practices identified in the lawsuit and is seeking damages, a “substantial portion” of which he intends to pay to Asian American civil rights organizations.

“My client is the most senior ByteDance official to have ever spoken publicly,” Charles Jung, his attorney, told AFP on Saturday.

“He is concerned about the protection of US user data, the app’s ethical behavior and the well-being of ByteDance employees.”

For years, the issue of access to American users’ personal data has caused growing tensions between the authorities and the company, which has taken several measures to ensure that this data is stored on servers in the United States.

At the end of March, TikTok boss Shou Chew again claimed at a congressional hearing that Beijing does not have access to it. However, several elected officials replied that they did not believe him.

The White House recently pushed for TikTok to be acquired by an American company so it can remain in the United States.