Buzz Feed News reported that leaked recordings from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings show that China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users.
In the recordings, eight employees gave statements about TikTok’s infiltration of U.S. user data. It revealed that TikTok employees in the US had to rely on their colleagues in China to determine how U.S. user data was moving.
A member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting said that “Everything is seen in China.”
In the recordings at a September meeting, a director indicated that one Beijing-based engineer was a “Master Admin.” He added that this person “has access to everything.”
TikTok declared that it physically stores all US users’ data in the US, with backups in Singapore. It argued that this does mitigate some risks and added that these data do not be covered by Chinese law.
However, Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told BuzzFeed News in an email that “Physical location does not matter if the data can still be accessed from China.”
In 2019, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States launched an investigation into the national security implications of TikTok’s collection of data on Americans.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump threatened to completely ban TikTok over concerns that the Chinese government might collect Americans’ personal information by this app.
Trump wrote in his executive order that TikTok’s “data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”