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TikTok confirms employees improperly accessed journalists’ user data in hunt for leaks

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ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of popular video app TikTok, announced on Thursday that some employees improperly accessed TikTok user data for two American journalists this summer and were no longer employed by the company. .

In an email to staff on Thursday, ByteDance general counsel Erich Andersen said that employees had access to data and that two journalists who worked for BuzzFeed and the Financial Times were working for the company following the breach. It said it sought to identify potential connections with its employees.

An investigation by an outside law firm resulted in the resignation of one ByteDance employee and the dismissal of three others. new york times report. Two of his employees were based in China and two of his were based in the United States.

Company officials said they are taking additional steps to protect user data.

ByteDance’s disclosure could add to the pressure TikTok is facing in Washington from lawmakers and the Biden administration over security concerns about US user data. Congress is set to pass a bill this week that would bar U.S. government employees from downloading or using her TikTok on government-owned devices.

TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas (center) listens during a hearing for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Impact of Social Media on Homeland Security on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 14. (Stephanie Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada’s electronic espionage agency was also paying attention to security threats posed by TikTok.

TikTok promises data protection

In a separate email to employees seen by Reuters, TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew said employees’ “misbehavior does not represent any of the company’s principles that I know of.” said.

He said the company “will continue to enhance these access protocols, which have already been significantly improved and enhanced since this initiative took place.”

For the past 15 months, the company has been working on building a data security feature called TikTok US Data Security (USDS), according to Chew.

“We have completed the transition of protected US user data management to the USDS division and are systematically shutting down access points,” Chew said.

ByteDance also said it is restructuring its internal audit and risk management functions, splitting and restructuring its global investigative function. The company added that it would redesign its investigation process to include an oversight board.

A black sign with white letters next to a wooden fence with a large office building in the background.
A view of TikTok’s office space in Culver City, west of Los Angeles, on August 11, 2020. TikTok is committed to better protecting US users’ data. (Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty Images)

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