TikTok for a very long time has been saying that data on US users is stored in the US and the Chinese have no access to it. It now turns out that this may not be true as Buzzfeed has blown the lid off of this talking point from TikTok with leaked audio that seems to confirm that the Chinese do have access to data on US users:
The recordings, which were reviewed by BuzzFeed News, contain 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least. Despite a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.
“Everything is seen in China,” said a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting. In another September meeting, a director referred to one Beijing-based engineer as a “Master Admin” who “has access to everything.” (While many employees introduced themselves by name and title in the recordings, BuzzFeed News is not naming anyone to protect their privacy.)
This is a huge problem for TikTok. Starting with the fact that TikTok appears to have lied in a Senate hearing. And that these recordings paint a very different picture than the one that TikTok wants you to see. While TikTok continues to argue that the data resides in the US which means you shouldn’t worry, that’s meaningless as data can be accessed from anywhere. Which means that the Chinese government can go after anyone they choose. Hopefully this gets the attention of lawmakers and said lawmakers drag TikTok in front of them to explain this in detail, or face extinction. Because this is not cool.
Oh, and if you use the TikTok app, you might want to reconsider your use of that app based on this.