Leaked recordings from internal meetings held by the social media app’s parent company confirmed China’s suspicions of spying on TikTok users, according to a scathing report on Friday.
Recordings revealed ByteDance’s China-based employees repeatedly accessed data belonging to US users – raising fresh concerns about TikTok, which once faced a ban in the United States due to privacy concerns.
The audio clips of dozens of meetings revealed 14 statements from nine TikTok employees who said ByteDance engineers in China could access non-public US user data, BuzzFeed reported, citing content from more than 80 meetings.
Chinese workers were able to access the information from at least September 2021 until January.
Leaked recordings suggest Beijing-based ByteDance’s ability to access US user data was far more far-reaching than previously thought — with a TikTok director saying in September 2021 that an unnamed engineer in China was the “master admin” whose ” have access to everything”.
In a separate meeting that same month, a member of TikTok’s trust and security department reportedly said that “everything is watched in China.”
Buzzfeed said that recordings ranging from closed-door conversations between company executives to all-hands presentations were made in TikTok meetings. The report suggests that TikTok executives may have underestimated China’s access to its database in communications with both congressional lawmakers and the public.
The outlet said it compiled statements from eight separate employees who said US-based TikTok workers had to consult with colleagues in China to assess the flow of user information — reportedly in US employees. The ability to visualize the data was lacking.
TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms, especially with children and young adults, with over 1 billion active users worldwide.
“We know that we are one of the most tested platforms from a security standpoint, and our goal is to remove any doubts about the security of US user data,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said in a statement to BuzzFeed. To do.”
“That’s why we hire experts in their fields, work relentlessly to validate our safety standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses,” the spokesperson said.
TikTok elaborated on its situation in a separate statement to The Post.
“As we have publicly stated, we have brought in world-class internal and external security experts to help strengthen our data protection efforts,” a TikTok spokesperson said. “Given the complexity of data security challenges, this is standard industry practice.
“In May, we created a new in-house department, US Data Security (USDS), with US-based leadership, to provide greater focus and governance on US data security,” the spokesperson said. “The creation of this organization is part of our ongoing effort and commitment to strengthen our data protection policies and protocols, protect our users, and instill confidence in our systems and controls.”
Shortly before the BuzzFeed story was published, TikTok sought to address concerns about user safety in a blog post. The blog post revealed that TikTok had migrated the data of its US users to a server run by Oracle.
“We are also making operational changes in line with this work – including the new department we recently established with US-based leadership to manage US user data only for TikTok,” the blog post said. is for.” “Together, these changes will enforce additional employee protection, provide greater security measures, and further reduce data transfer outside the US.”
The administration of former President Donald Trump has repeatedly raised concerns that the Chinese Community Party may improperly gain access to the personal data of US users. Trump officials argued that parent company ByteDance had direct links to officials in Beijing and posed a national security risk.
Trump attempted to force ByteDance to sell TikTok and also attempted to impose a complete ban on downloads of the social media app by executive order. The latter attempt was blocked by a federal judge.
President Biden later scrapped a Trump-era effort to ban TikTok and instead ordered Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to review apps that could pose a security risk.