Former ByteDance executive Yintao Yu has filed a wrongful dismissal suit against the Chinese technology giant, alleging a “worldwide scheme” to steal and profit from other companies’ intellectual property. Yu also accused ByteDance of a “culture of lawlessness,” including stealing content from rival platforms Snapchat and Instagram in its early years, and called the company a “useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party.” The complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, claims that ByteDance’s Beijing offices had a special unit of Chinese Communist Party members who monitored the company’s apps, “guided how the company advanced core Communist values,” and possessed a “death switch” that could turn off the Chinese apps entirely.
Yu’s claims describe how ByteDance operated five years ago, surfacing as TikTok faces intense national scrutiny over its relationship with its parent company and China’s potential influence on the platform. The video app has become hugely popular for memes and entertainment, but lawmakers and U.S. officials are concerned that the app is passing sensitive information about Americans to Beijing.
In his complaint, Yu said that as TikTok sought to attract users in its early days, ByteDance engineers copied videos and posts from Snapchat and Instagram without permission and then posted them to the app. He also claimed that ByteDance “systematically created fabricated users” to boost engagement numbers, a practice he flagged to his superiors.
Yu said he raised these concerns but was dismissed by his superiors. During his time with the company, American user data on TikTok was stored in the United States, but engineers in China had access to it, he said. His lawsuit demands lost earnings, punitive damages, and 220,000 ByteDance shares that had not vested by the time he was dismissed. The complaint does not cite a specific dollar amount in damages, but the shares alone would be worth tens of millions of dollars. The case was filed after several years of mediation with the company failed.