ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of popular video app TikTok, said some employees improperly accessed TikTok user data of two journalists who are no longer employed by the company, Reuters reported. Confirmed email shows.
ByteDance employees accessed the data as part of a failed attempt to investigate a breach of company information earlier this year, which resulted in a dispute between two journalists (a former BuzzFeed reporter and a Financial Times reporter) and company employees. We aimed to identify potential connections between Thursday by ByteDance attorney Erich Andersen.
The employee looked up the journalist’s IP address to see if he was in the same location as the employee suspected of leaking confidential information.
The disclosure, previously reported by The New York Times, could add pressure TikTok faces in Washington from lawmakers and President Joe Biden’s administration over security concerns about US users’ data.
A person briefed on the matter said four ByteDance employees involved in the incident were fired, two in China and two in the United States. Company officials said they are taking additional steps to protect user data.
A TikTok spokesperson told Al Jazeera, “The misconduct of certain individuals who were no longer employed by ByteDance was the abuse of their powers to gain access to user data.”
“This misconduct is unacceptable and inconsistent with TikTok’s overall efforts to earn user trust. We will continue to enhance our access protocol, which is being improved and strengthened.”
A ByteDance spokesperson accused the employee of “misguided efforts.”
“We are taking disciplinary action and no individuals found to have directly participated in or supervised misguided schemes remain employed by ByteDance,” a spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
The U.S. Congress is set to pass legislation this week that would ban federal employees from downloading or using TikTok on government-owned devices. Over a dozen governors have banned state employees from using TikTok on state-owned devices.
In a statement, the Financial Times said, “Spying on reporters, interfering with their work, or threatening sources is totally unacceptable. We need to read this story more fully before deciding on a formal response.” I will investigate.”
BuzzFeed News spokesperson Lizzie Grams said the company was deeply shaken by the report, adding that it showed “a blatant disregard for the privacy and rights of journalists and TikTok users.” .
Forbes reported Thursday that ByteDance tracked down multiple Forbes journalists. Among them were some former BuzzFeed journalists “as part of a covert surveillance campaign” aimed at determining the source of the leak.
Forbes Chief Content Officer Randall Lane called it “a direct attack on the idea of press freedom and its vital role in a functioning democracy.”
TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew said in a separate email to employees seen by Reuters, “Such misconduct does not represent the company’s principles as I know it.” 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, Chew said the company has been working to build TikTok US Data Security (USDS), ensuring that protected user data stays in the United States.
“We are transferring protected US user data management to the USDS division and systematically blocking access points,” he wrote.
ByteDance also said it would reorganize its internal audit and risk management functions and split and reorganize its global investigative function.
The National Security Agency, the Commission on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), has been waiting for months for a national security agreement with ByteDance to protect the data of over 100 million US TikTok users. We’ve been asking, but it doesn’t look like we’ll reach an agreement before the end of the year.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio said of the incident, “ByteDance raised bipartisan concerns about how the Chinese Communist Party could use and potentially weaponize the data of American citizens. Desperate to contain the surge, it is becoming clearer by the day that TikTok needs to be banned.”