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A TikTok Whistleblower Got DC’s Attention. Do His Claims Add Up?

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the potential ban of TikTok in the United States and the allegations made by a former TikTok employee, Zen Goziker, regarding the app's security concerns and links to China.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Overview

1. What are the key allegations made by the former TikTok employee, Zen Goziker?

  • Goziker claims he found evidence that TikTok's software could send US data to Toutiao, a ByteDance app in China, which contradicts TikTok's assertions that the two companies operate separately.
  • Goziker alleges that he was put under 24-hour surveillance by TikTok and the FBI while working remotely in Mexico, and that the FBI helped the CIA share his private information with foreign governments.
  • Goziker claims he was fired from TikTok in February 2022 for refusing to "sign off" on Project Texas, a $1.5 billion program to address US government security concerns by storing American data on servers managed by Oracle.

2. How have Goziker's claims influenced the US government's stance on TikTok?

  • Goziker's claims have formed the basis of influential news reports and have been cited by US lawmakers, including Senators Warner and Rubio, in calls for investigations and potential bans on TikTok.
  • The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would force ByteDance to sell off TikTok within six months, and the Senate is currently considering the legislation.

3. How have TikTok and the US government responded to Goziker's allegations?

  • TikTok has dismissed Goziker's claims as "outrageous" and lacking merit, stating that he "significantly exaggerates his role" at the company.
  • The US government agencies named in Goziker's lawsuits, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, have not responded to requests for comment.

[02] Goziker's Background and Role at TikTok

1. What was Goziker's background and role at TikTok?

  • Goziker worked as a risk manager at TikTok for only six months, reporting to the senior director of operations.
  • Prior to TikTok, Goziker worked as a senior vice president in charge of enterprise risk management for the Americas' operations at the National Bank of Pakistan.
  • Goziker claims his main job at TikTok was "overseeing" Project Texas, a $1.5 billion program to address US government security concerns about TikTok.

2. What were Goziker's allegations regarding his findings at TikTok?

  • Goziker claims he found evidence that TikTok's software could send US data to Toutiao, a Chinese news aggregation app owned by ByteDance.
  • He alleges that he obtained a "verified artifact" in TikTok's software that connected the platform to Toutiao, demonstrating that US data could still flow to China despite TikTok's assertions to the contrary.

[03] TikTok's Response and Congressional Scrutiny

1. How did TikTok respond to the allegations made in the Washington Post article?

  • TikTok stated that many of the allegations in the Washington Post article were "unfounded" and that the reference to Toutiao in TikTok's code "does not in any way indicate a correlation between, integration of, or network connectivity between Toutiao and TikTok."
  • TikTok added that the "Toutiao news application cannot interfere with TikTok data flows once Project Texas is complete."

2. How did US lawmakers respond to the allegations?

  • After the Washington Post article, US representatives Jan Schakowsky and Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent questions to TikTok about the claims.
  • Senators Warner and Rubio later cited a BuzzFeed News article, which was allegedly based on Goziker's recordings, in a letter urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate TikTok.
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