TikTok confirms that parent company ByteDance spied on US journalists
An internal investigation by TikTok's parent ByteDance has revealed that some employees of the company accessed the user data of at least two US journalists and people connected with them. The company confirmed that it fired four employees, two in the US and two in China, in connection with the event. TikTok has been under scrutiny in the US due to national security concerns.
Why does this story matter?
- The news about ByteDance employees snooping on US journalists couldn't have come at a worse time for TikTok. The company is already under scrutiny regarding its handling of privacy and security.
- Many US states have banned the app on government phones, and moves are being made to ban TikTok outrightly.
- TikTok, on its part, is in negotiations to separate user data from China.
Actions of few individuals will affect public trust: ByteDance CEO
In two separate internal emails obtained by The New York Times, ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang and TikTok CEO Shou Chew informed employees about the incident. Liang said he was "deeply disappointed" that the "misconduct of a few individuals" is going to hamper the public trust the company has built. Chew echoed his sentiments calling the act "unacceptable."
TikTok's Audit and Risk team is being restructured
The internal investigation was done by an outside law firm. Per a third email, it was TikTok's Audit and Risk team that was responsible for the snooping incident. TikTok's general counsel Erich Andersen told employees that the team is being restructured. The fired employees were taking part in an endeavor to uncover leakers in the company.
Journalists of The Financial Times, BuzzFeed, and Forbes were tracked
The two journalists who were tracked include The Financial Times' Cristina Criddle and a BuzzFeed journalist. According to Forbes, three of its journalists, including Emily Baker-White, Katharine Schwab, and Richard Nieva were also tracked. All three of them previously worked for BuzzFeed. Fired employees include Song Ye, ByteDance's head of internal audit and risk control, and Chris Lepitak, TikTok's head of internal audit.
A Forbes report prompted the investigation
A report by Forbes in October alleged that ByteDance planned to use TikTok data to surveil certain US citizens. At the time, the company vehemently denied this. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed too reported that some US user data can be accessed from China. It was the Forbes report that promoted the company to conduct the investigation.