TikTok obtained data of some users, including two journalists – NYT
ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, admitted that their employees had inappropriately obtained the data of some TikTok users, including that of two reporters.
ByteDance’s general counsel, Erich Andersen, revealed the findings of the investigation, which was conducted by an outside law firm, in an email to employees on December 22.
According to NYT, over the summer, a few employees on a ByteDance team responsible for monitoring employee conduct tried to find the sources of suspected leaks of internal conversations and business documents to journalists.
The employees gained access to the IP addresses and other data of two reporters and a small number of people connected to the reporters via their TikTok accounts.
The targeted reporters were Emily Baker-White, who wrote for BuzzFeed and is now at Forbes, and Cristina Criddle of the Financial Times, ByteDance said, though it declined to identify other affected TikTok users.
Forbes reported that two more of its reporters, who are also former BuzzFeed reporters, were targeted. ByteDance said its investigation did not conclude that those additional reporters were affected.
Four employees involved in the scheme; two were working in China and two were in the United States. ByteDance said all four were fired.
ByteDance said it had restructured its internal audit and risk team and had removed any access to U.S. data from that department.
According to NYT, this points to very real privacy and safety risks for TikTok users that U.S. lawmakers, state governors and the Trump and Biden administrations have raised for more than two years.
They said the app is too closely aligned with its parent company in China and can put sensitive data, such as geolocation and the habits and interests of users in the United States, into the hands of the Chinese government.
The company started the internal investigation following a Forbes article published on October 20. It said that a China-based team at TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, planned to use the TikTok app to monitor the personal location of some specific American citizens.
TikTok is a hugely popular video-sharing app with an estimated 100 million American users. ByteDance acquired TikTok, formerly known as Musical.ly, in 2017.
TikTok is in the middle of an escalating economic and trade war between the United States and China for technology leadership. The superpowers have imposed trade restrictions on foreign-made technologies and have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into subsidies and grants to bring back tech supply chains for manufacturing within their borders.
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