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TikTok has repeatedly said that it’s no longer linked to China. A new Fortune investigation tells a more complicated story.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If there’s one thing you need to know about TikTok, it’s this:

“What was happening behind the scenes at TikTok was not always what the company was talking about in public forums,” Fortune tech reporter Alexandra Sternlicht told me.

Yesterday, Sternlicht published a story revealing that, according to 11 former employees, TikTok retained ties to its China-based parent ByteDance—even after publicly saying the operations of the two entities had been separated. The story drew social media responses from Washington, including from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. These ties have been especially clear in the company’s data-sharing practices, some ex-employees say:

Evan Turner, who worked at TikTok as a senior data scientist from April to September in 2022, said TikTok concealed the involvement of its Chinese owner during his employment. When hired, Turner initially reported to a ByteDance executive in Beijing. 


These are high-stakes revelations, as TikTok continues to be both a political hot potato and an insurgent social media darling. Sternlicht writes:

The allegations of close ties, made in interviews between August and April, raise more questions about the relationship between TikTok and ByteDance. They also create more fodder for critics who fear the Chinese government could use TikTok as a sort of Trojan horse to spy on Americans by sifting through the huge amounts of digital data that it collects. 

And though TikTok has become a lightning rod, it’s also important to remember how we got here in the first place. Put simply, creators and consumers love TikTok.

“TikTok occupies this really important place in the creator economy,” said Sternlicht. “The virality that you can get on TikTok doesn’t exist on Instagram or YouTube. On TikTok, you can go from someone who's just a regular person to someone who’s truly famous on social media, and that’s an amazing thing.”

At the beginning of our interview, Sternlicht had highlighted the gap between TikTok’s words and its actions when it comes to China. So, at the end I followed up with a final question: Does she think that gap will ever close?

“I don't know if it’s possible to say,” said Sternlicht. “But I really hope so, and I think from the employees that I’ve interviewed they definitely say that there’s been progress made in distancing itself from China…An employee who was there up until very recently said that Project Texas [TikTok’s initiative to protect Americans’ user data] is very effective, and they were familiar with the tech stack, so I think that’s a good sign.”

Read the whole story here.

Elsewhere…Andreessen Horowitz closed on $7.2 billion for its newest group of funds, Axios reported yesterday.

See you tomorrow,

Allie Garfinkle
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