China’s ByteDance admits it used TikTok data to stalk journalists

Employees at Chinese tech giant ByteDance unlawfully accessed data from social media platform TikTok to track journalists to identify the source of leaks to the media, the company admitted on Friday.

TikTok has gone to great lengths to convince customers and governments of major markets like the United States that user privacy is protected and does not pose a threat to national security.

But parent company ByteDance told AFP on Friday that several employees had accessed the data of two journalists as part of an internal investigation into the disclosure of company information to the media.

They were hoping to identify links between employees and a Financial Times reporter and a former BuzzFeed journalist, according to an email seen by AFP from Erich Andersen, ByteDance’s general counsel.

Both journalists had previously reported on the content of leaked company materials.

None of the employees involved remained employed by ByteDance, Andersen said, although he did not disclose how many had been laid off.

In a statement to AFP, ByteDance said it condemned the “misguided initiative that seriously violated the company’s code of conduct.”

Employees had obtained journalists’ IP addresses to determine if they were in the same location as ByteDance colleagues suspected of leaking confidential information, according to a corporate audit of the system led by its compliance team and an outside law firm Andersen.

However, the plan failed, among other things, because the IP addresses only revealed approximate location data.

TikTok has returned to the spotlight in the United States, and Congress is poised to authorize a nationwide ban on use of the hugely popular short-video app on government devices due to perceived security risks.

The House of Representatives could pass legislation this week banning the use of TikTok on officials’ work phones, a move that would be followed by bans in around 20 U.S. states.

TikTok has tried to convince US authorities that US data is protected and stored on servers in the country.

But according to media reports, it has also admitted that China-based employees had access to US users’ data, although the company insisted it was done under strict and very limited circumstances.

© 2022 AFP

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