Ex-TikTok Employee Says He Was Ordered To Send US Data to China

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April 15, 2024

A former senior employee at TikTok said he was ordered to send American user data to Beijing-based parent company ByteDance, contradicting TikTok’s public claims of operating independently from China, according to a Fortune report published Monday. 

Evan Turner, a senior data scientist for TikTok from April to September in 2022, told Fortune that every two weeks TikTok had him email spreadsheets containing millions of American users’ data to ByteDance employees in Beijing, including the users’ names, email addresses, IP addresses, and demographics. 

Turner said he "literally worked on a project that gave U.S. data to China" even though TikTok had launched Project Texas in March 2022, promising U.S. officials that it would stop sharing American user data with its Chinese parent company and keep the data in U.S.-based data centers. "There were Americans that were working in upper management that were completely complicit in this," Turner said.

The former senior data scientist said that while his supervisor was switched from a ByteDance executive in Beijing to an American manager in Seattle, a human resources representative told him he would in reality still report to the Beijing-based ByteDance executive. Turner said he never met with the American manager and continued to have weekly meetings with the ByteDance executive. 

"Even though a spreadsheet is probably a very tiny percentage of all of the information that TikTok collects, it can be extremely targeted and very damaging to certain people," Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, told Fortune. "Everyone should be really concerned."

U.S. lawmakers in January grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew over his company’s alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party, after both President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump voiced national security concerns and tried to restrict the video-sharing platform’s operations in the United States.  

Last month, the House voted 352-65 in favor of banning TikTok unless it is sold to a non-Chinese company. Biden said he would sign the bill should it pass through the Senate.