TikTok served as a ‘dissemination apparatus’ for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda.

A former executive alleges that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company in China, had a group of Communist Party members in place to propagate core Communist principles, adding to the growing concerns about the company as it confronts a potential ban in the US.

Yintao Yu, who was the head of engineering at ByteDance’s US division until November 2018, has filed a US lawsuit accusing the company of being a beneficial propaganda machine for the Chinese Communist Party, fostering an environment of lawlessness. Yu asserts that he was dismissed from ByteDance after revealing a worldwide plan to illicitly acquire intellectual property from competing services.

According to Yu, the Chinese committee possessed exceptional access to all the company’s data, including a “kill switch” that could deactivate its Chinese apps. He also claimed that engineers at Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, were instructed to manipulate the app’s algorithm to prioritize anti-Japan content and downplay material supporting protestors in Hong Kong.

This lawsuit emerges just before TikTok’s sponsorship of the upcoming Eurovision song contest on Saturday, a significant promotional endeavour for the viral video app, which will have part of its coverage exclusively broadcasted on the platform by the BBC.

Due to security concerns, TikTok has been prohibited on government devices in the US, UK, and Europe. Furthermore, the White House has threatened the app with an extensive ban if its Chinese investors do not divest their shares.

TikTok has made attempts to quell anxieties that it might serve as a surveillance or propaganda instrument for Beijing, stating that it does not keep data within China and has limited the ability of Chinese employees to access data from overseas.

The accusations by Mr. Yu pertain to ByteDance’s operations before his dismissal nearly five years ago, and before TikTok rose to its current global popularity.

According to him, in the early phases of the app, ByteDance’s engineers would pilfer videos from Snapchat and Instagram, and post them on TikTok to falsely accelerate its growth. He also blamed the company for inflating the platform with counterfeit users.

Mr. Yu, who alleges he was fired for expressing concerns about these practices, is suing for wrongful termination.

After unsuccessful discussions with ByteDance, Mr. Yu, who told the New York Times that engineers had clandestine access to user data regardless of its location, is now filing his case. He also accuses ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, of orchestrating bribes to Chinese government officials.

Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s CEO, has stated that the Chinese government has never asked the app for data, and that the company would deny such a request if it were made. He conceded during a Congressional hearing in March that ByteDance staff in China do have access to users’ data.

To stave off further regulatory actions, the company is establishing data centers in the US and Europe, and limiting how its Chinese staff can access information. Despite these efforts, it has not been able to fully avoid government interventions.

In March, TikTok was barred from UK government devices and the Parliamentary Wi-Fi network, in what ministers described as a “precautionary” measure.

The Biden administration has threatened a broader ban in the US if ByteDance’s Chinese investors do not sell TikTok.

TikTok, with over 2 billion downloads and more than 150 million users each in Europe and the US, has not responded to requests for comments on the lawsuit and its allegations.

In retaliation to US demands, China has declared it would “strongly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok, arguing that such an order would undermine investor confidence in the US.

Mr. Yu is pursuing damages and lost earnings, as well as the reinstatement of ByteDance share options that could be worth tens of millions of dollars, as reported by the New York Times.

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