ByteDance, China’s parent company to the popular TikTok video app, stated on Thursday that two journalists incorrectly accessed TikTok user information and they are no longer working for the company. A Reuters email shows this.
Employees at ByteDance accessed the data in an attempt to find leaks of company information. They were trying to discover possible connections between two journalists (a former BuzzFeed reporter, and a Financial Times journalist) and employees of the company, according to Erich Andersen’s email.
Employees looked at the IP addresses of journalists to see if they were located in the same area as those suspected of leaking confidential information.
According to the New York Times earlier, the disclosure could increase the pressure TikTok faces in Washington, where it is being challenged by lawmakers and the Biden government over security concerns regarding U.S. user’s data.
According to a person familiar with the situation, four ByteDance employees were implicated in the incident. Two were in China, and the other two were in the United States. Officials from the company stated that they are taking further steps to safeguard user data.
Congress will soon pass legislation to prohibit U.S. government workers from downloading and using TikTok from their devices. More than 12 governors have also banned state employees using TikTok from state-owned devices.
In a statement, the Financial Times stated that spying on journalists and interfering in their work is unacceptable. Before we make a formal response, we’ll investigate this more thoroughly.
BuzzFeed News spokeswoman Lizzie Grams stated that the company is deeply troubled by the report and said it shows “a blatant disregard of the privacy rights journalists as well TikTok users.”
Forbes reports that ByteDance has tracked Forbes journalists, including those who worked previously at BuzzFeed as part of a covert surveillance program to find the source of leaks. Forbes chief content officer Randall Lane called it “a direct attack on the notion of a free press and its crucial role in functioning democracy.”
Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s Chief Executive said that this “misconduct” isn’t representative of the company’s principles.
According to him, the company will continue to improve access protocols that have been greatly improved since the initiative began.
Chew stated that the company had worked hard over the last 15 months to create TikTok U.S. Data Security to ensure TikTok U.S. users’ data remains in America.
He wrote that “We have completed the migration of US-protected user data management to USDS and have been systematically cutting out access points.”
ByteDance stated that it is restructuring its Internal Audit and Risk Control departments and that the global investigation function will be separated and restructured.
Although the U.S. government Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has been trying for several months to come to a national agreement with ByteDance in order to secure the data of over 100 million TikTok users in the United States, it seems unlikely that any deal will be made before the end of the year.
Marco Rubio, Republican Senator from Florida said that ByteDance was trying to calm growing bipartisan concern about the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to access and possibly weaponize the personal data of American citizens. It becomes more apparent every day that TikTok must be banned.”