Short video service TikTok is embroiled in another US user privacy scandal. According to publication BuzzFeed NewsCiting audio recordings of the company’s internal meetings, TikTok employees in China have repeatedly accessed US users’ sensitive data.
TikTok has been denying allegations of user privacy violations for several years. The company has repeatedly stated that US users’ data is stored in the US and not in China, where ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is located. However, more than 80 audio recordings of internal conversations that somehow got into the hands of journalists indicate that ByteDance employees from China have repeatedly accessed the confidential data of TikTok users from the US.
The said audio recordings reportedly include testimonies from nine different TikTok employees, showing that Chinese engineers had access to sensitive information about US users between at least September 2021 and January 2022.
“You can see everything in China”— said one of the employees of TikTok’s security department during internal negotiations in September 2021. At another meeting in the same month, one of the heads referred to a specific Beijing administrator, whom he called “chief engineer” with access “to all dates”. It is noted that journalists have recordings that record conversations between TikTok employees at various levels, including small meetings with department heads and ending with company presentations.
According to the publication, the mentioned records indicate that the company’s Chinese employees did in fact have access to the data of users from the United States. This may mean that the company intentionally misled US lawmakers, users and the public by claiming that data stored in the US is not accessible from China.
TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan didn’t comment on the audio recordings that journalists got their hands on, reiterating that TikTok is committed to protecting user privacy. “We know that we are one of the most scrutinized platforms when it comes to security, and we are committed to eliminating any doubt that US users’ data is safe. That’s why we work with a variety of experts, work to validate our security standards, and engage reputable, independent parties to verify our security.”said Shanahan.