In a lawsuit filed last Friday, Yu Yintao, the former head of engineering for ByteDance’s U.S. operations, has accused the Chinese tech giant of a “culture of lawlessness,”.
The allegations include stealing content from rival platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, creating fabricated users to boost engagement numbers, and serving as a “useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party.”
The New York Times reports that the claims are part of a wrongful dismissal suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court.
Yu alleges that he was terminated due to his concerns over ByteDance’s “worldwide scheme” to steal and profit from other companies’ intellectual property.
Among the most concerning allegations is the claim that ByteDance’s Beijing offices housed a special unit of Chinese Communist Party members, sometimes referred to as the Committee.
Yu suggests that this committee monitored the company’s apps, influenced how the company advanced Communist values, and possessed a “death switch” that could turn off the Chinese apps entirely. The Committee allegedly maintained supreme access to all company data, including data stored in the United States.
Yu’s accusations come at a time when TikTok, used by over 150 million Americans, is under intense scrutiny over its ties to its parent company and the potential influence of China. Concerns regarding data privacy and national security have been a focal point in recent discussions among lawmakers and U.S. officials.
ByteDance has rejected the allegations in an emailed statement, saying that the company would “vigorously oppose what we believe are baseless claims and allegations in this complaint.”
Yu’s complaint also suggests that ByteDance’s actions contributed to the promotion of anti-Japanese sentiments and the suppression of pro-democracy content regarding the protests in Hong Kong. He further alleges that ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, facilitated bribes to a senior government official charged with internet regulation.
The lawsuit has brought further scrutiny on the Chinese tech giant, with the US Justice Department investigating allegations that ByteDance has been spying on journalists and other Americans. This adds to the growing concern over the influence of the authoritarian Chinese government over the company and how the app is used.
Countries around the world are beginning to impose restrictions on TikTok due to security concerns.
Just this week, Austria announced a ban on TikTok on federal employees’ work phones, following similar measures by the United States, Britain, Australia, France, the Netherlands, and the European Commission.
Yu’s lawsuit demands lost earnings, punitive damages, and 220,000 ByteDance shares that had not vested by the time he was dismissed.
The lawsuit was filed after several years of unsuccessful mediation with the company. Yu is being represented by Charles Jung, a San Francisco lawyer who specializes in employment disputes.