Former ByteDance exec claims firm used bots to inflate TikTok engagement

TikTok remains to be preventing to stay operational in america, however a brand new lawsuit might complicate issues even additional for the corporate. A former ByteDance govt has alleged TikTok’s proprietor used bots and stolen content material to inflate the app’s engagement.

The lawsuit, filed by former head of engineering Yintao Yu and reported by The New York Occasions, claims that ByteDance wrongly fired Yu after he pushed again on firm practices like stealing different apps’ materials. It additionally claims that ByteDance acted as a “helpful propaganda instrument for the Chinese language Communist Social gathering,” and that China-based workers might entry US customers’ knowledge.

As The New York Occasions factors out, Yu’s allegations “describe how ByteDance operated 5 years in the past” and are available after “a number of years of mediation.” Nonetheless, the claims are nonetheless prone to gasoline much more scrutiny for TikTok, which is going through the prospect of a nationwide ban in america. Lawmakers and different officers have claimed that TikTok is a nationwide safety menace and that the app can’t be trusted to guard the info of US customers.

Yu’s allegations might intensify these considerations. The lawsuit particulars “a particular unit of Chinese language Communist Social gathering members” at ByteDance places of work in Beijing who “guided how the corporate superior core Communist values.” He additionally alleges that ByteDance workers manipulated Douyin, the Chinese language model of TikTok, to suppress content material about protests in Hong Kong and “elevate content material that expressed hatred for Japan.”

A few of Yu’s claims additionally relate on to TikTok. Notably, he claims that ByteDance engineers stole standard content material from apps like Instagram and Snapchat and put the movies onto TikTok. He additionally alleges that the corporate used bot accounts to juice the app’s engagement metrics when it was simply beginning out and attempting to realize a foothold within the US. (Yu left the corporate in November 2018, shortly after ByteDance rebranded Musical.ly as TikTok.)

A spokesperson for ByteDance instructed Engadget: “We plan to vigorously oppose what we consider are baseless claims and allegations on this grievance. Mr. Yu labored for ByteDance Inc. for lower than a yr and his employment led to July 2018. Throughout his transient time on the firm, he labored on an app referred to as Flipagram, which was discontinued years in the past for enterprise causes.” On the allegation of scraping, additionally they stated: “ByteDance is dedicated to respecting the mental property of different corporations, and we purchase knowledge in accordance with trade practices and our world coverage.” 

TikTok has repeatedly tried to downplay its ties to ByteDance and China, together with in CEO Shou Zi Chew’s congressional testimony in March. The corporate has additionally devoted greater than a billion {dollars} into Project Texas, which goals to wall off TikTok’s US person knowledge from the remainder of ByteDance in an effort to allay the considerations of US regulators.

Replace 05/12/23: Added an announcement from ByteDance.

All merchandise advisable by Engadget are chosen by our editorial workforce, unbiased of our dad or mum firm. A few of our tales embrace affiliate hyperlinks. When you purchase one thing via one in all these hyperlinks, we could earn an affiliate fee. All costs are appropriate on the time of publishing.

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