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A TikTok Whistleblower Got DC’s Attention. Do His Claims Add Up? A TikTok Whistleblower Got DC’s Attention. Do His Claims Add Up?
Despite not holding a senior position, Goziker claims that his main job at TikTok was “overseeing” Project Texas to ensure the social media app’s... A TikTok Whistleblower Got DC’s Attention. Do His Claims Add Up?


Despite not holding a senior position, Goziker claims that his main job at TikTok was “overseeing” Project Texas to ensure the social media app’s plan to secure US user data would be effective. The goal was to implement a set of safeguards that would satisfy the ​​Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency body charged with evaluating national security risks associated with foreign firms acquiring or taking major stakes in US companies. CFIUS has the power to force companies to unwind deals it considers risky, and since 2019 has been investigating ByteDance’s 2017 purchase of a lip-syncing app called Musical.ly, which was later merged into TikTok.

Goziker claims that he interviewed more than three dozen people at TikTok and ByteDance about Project Texas, according to court filings. He says that he identified flaws in the initiative that led him to refuse to “sign off” on it, despite alleged pressure from his manager and other executives at the company. Goziker tried to flag his concerns to TikTok’s top leadership, including the CEO and board of directors, according to court records.

Goziker alleges in court filings that he found evidence TikTok’s software could send data to China in January of 2022—weeks before he was fired. He claims in the filings that through “collaborative and willful joint effort with ByteDance engineers from mainland China,” he obtained “a verified artifact” in TikTok’s software that connected the platform to Toutiao, a popular Chinese news aggregation app also owned by ByteDance. Goziker said that his findings demonstrated US data from TikTok could still flow to the People’s Republic, despite TikTok’s assertions to the contrary. The filings do not contain detailed documentary evidence of his allegations.

In March last year, two weeks after Goziker’s claims appeared in The Washington Post, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress and got a grilling about his app’s links to China. Afterward, US representatives Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, each sent questions to TikTok about the claims aired in the Post story.

TikTok responded by saying that many of the allegations in the article were unfounded. It stated 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,” adding that the “Toutiao news application cannot interfere with TikTok data flows once Project Texas is complete.”

In the lawsuits and an email record reviewed by WIRED, Goziker revealed that he had also been in touch with a Forbes journalist who has written a number of influential stories about TikTok’s data security practices and links to ByteDance. In June of 2022, when the journalist worked at BuzzFeed News, they published an article based on 80 internal meetings at TikTok in which nine different employees reportedly made statements “indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022.”

Goziker asserted to WIRED that he was the source of the recordings. Forbes told WIRED it does not comment on sourcing.

Senator Warner and Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican and the vice chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, later cited that BuzzFeed story in a letter urging the Federal Trade Commission to start an investigation into TikTok. Politico reported this month that the agency heeded that call and opened a probe into whether the app “deceived its users by denying that individuals in China had access to their data.”

As Goziker was filing his lawsuits, US lawmakers were getting closer to banning the app than ever before. The House of Representatives approved a bill last month that would force ByteDance to sell off TikTok within six months before the app would become illegal to download from US app stores. The legislation is now being considered by the Senate, and President Joe Biden has already said he would sign it into law.

Updated 4/4/2024, 6:15 pm EDT: The House passed the bill that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok with a clear majority, but not unanimously.



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