ByteDance is the Chinese company that owns TikTok. Interestingly, of the billion global TikTok users, none of them are in (wait for it) … China. The country doesn’t permit TikTok to operate in its home market, just as it blocks Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter’s social graphs from extending into the Middle Kingdom. The CCP prefers homegrown variants that aren’t nuisanced by Western neuroses such as privacy and data ownership.
The Chinese government has the power to access the data of private-sector companies whenever it wants. A wide range of laws makes this possible, including the Law of Guarding State Secrets: If you’re suspected of harboring sensitive state information, you must grant access. The state takes small ownership positions known as golden shares (that typically come with board seats) in businesses deemed strategic to the state.
One of those golden share arrangements is with ByteDance. And though TikTok is not accessible to Chinese consumers, Chinese access to TikTok’s data is not in dispute. In June, Buzzfeed obtained over 80 audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings, confirming Chinese management at ByteDance had unfettered access to TikTok’s data. A TikTok manager refers to an engineer in Beijing, known as the “Master Admin,” who “has access to everything.”