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TikTok Whistleblower Tells Congress Data Protections Don't Stop Chinese Access

Saturday March 11, 2023. 02:00 PM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A former TikTok employee turned whistleblower has reportedly met with multiple U.S. senators expressing concerns TikTok's plan to secure U.S. user data won't go far enough to stop possible Chinese espionage. The whistleblower told The Washington Post in an interview that the company's policy plan, dubbed Project Texas, doesn't go far enough and that properly ensuring U.S. data is secured from Chinese employees requires nothing short of a 'complete re-engineering' of the way the app works. Those allegations come just days after another whistleblower raised concerns regarding TikTok's U.S. user controls. Combined, the comments could fan the flames for what looks like growing bipartisan support for a full-on nationwide TikTok ban.

The former TikTok employee turned whistleblower told the Post he worked at the company for around six months ending in early 2022 as a risk manager and head of a unit in TikTok's Safety Operations team. Part of that job, he claims, put him in charge of knowing which employees had access to certain tools and user data. He claims he was fired after speaking up about his data privacy concerns. Though he left TikTok prior to its finalization of the so-called Project Texas policy, he maintains he saw enough evidence to suggest the guardrails put in place to placate U.S. regulators fearful of Chinese employees viewing U.S. user data were insufficient. The whistleblower has reportedly already met with staffers from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner's offices.

Specifically, the whistleblower shared a snippet of code with the Post which they say shows TikTok's code connecting with Toutiao, a Chinese news app also run by TikTok's parent company, ByteDance. The whistleblower alleges that connection could let Chinese employees intercept and potentially view U.S. user data. Gizmodo could not independently confirm those claims. The whistleblower, meanwhile reportedly did not advocate for an outright nationwide ban. Instead, he said the problems could be solved but would require further steps than what is included in the Project Texas proposal. Another alleged whistleblower came forward just days before the Post interview, alleging TikTok's access controls on U.S. data were 'superficial' at best. 'TikTok and ByteDance employees, he alleged, possess the ability to 'switch between Chinese and U.S. data with nothing more than the click of a button,'' reports Gizmodo.

The whistleblower alleged in a letter sent to ByteDance by Republican Missouri Rep. Josh Hawley: 'I have seen first-hand China-based engineers flipping over to non-China datasets and creating scheduled tasks to backup, aggregate, and analyze data. TikTok and ByteDance are functionally the same company.'

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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