A new report has revealed an overlap between hundreds of employees at TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and Chinese state media.
Forbes searched hundreds of LinkedIn profiles for employees of the tech company, and found that at least 300 workers had previously held positions in China’s state media – and 15 of them currently work for both .
“Fifteen indicate that current ByteDance employees are also concurrently employed by Chinese state media entities, including Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International and China Central/China Global Television,” the report said. The US State Department has referred to these organizations as “officials of foreign governments”.
TikTok has come under scrutiny as US officials continue to warn of the app’s threat to national security: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in June called on the CEOs of Google and Apple to remove the app from their stores, citing reports suggesting the app harvests “whole swaths of sensitive data”.
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“TikTok isn’t what it seems on the surface. It’s not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. It’s sheepskin,” Carr wrote. “Basically, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests vast amounts of personal and sensitive data.”
ByteDance spokeswoman Jennifer Banks told Forbes that hiring is decided “purely on an individual’s professional ability to do the job.”
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“For our companies in the Chinese market, this includes people who have previously held positions in government or state media in China,” she said. “Outside of China, employees also bring experience in government, public policy and media organizations from dozens of markets.”
She said ByteDance “does not allow employees to engage in side or part-time jobs or any outside business activities” in response to the 15 concurrent employee profiles of ByteDance-Chinese state media, saying it would “cause a conflict of interest”.
TikTok recently admitted that employees outside the United States could access user information, but insisted that such access required “robust cybersecurity protocols and authorization” from its US security team.
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Leaked internal TikTok documents also show that the company actively pushed employees to “downplay the Chinese association” to help deal with the growing attention and criticism, Gizmodo reported.