TikTok Parent Company Admits it Used the App to Track Some Journalists

ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok has confirmed after an internal investigation that some of its employees have been using the app to spy on journalists. As reported by Forbes, ByteDance used TikTok to track multiple Forbes journalists who were suspected of leaking information about the company.

The surveillance project has been led by a ByteDance team based in China. This team used IP addresses and user data to check if journalists covering TikTok had been in the same location as ByteDance employees. The report comes just a couple of months after an FCC Commissioner asked Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their mobile app stores over data security concerns.

According to Forbes, ByteDance has laid off Chris Lepitak, its chief internal auditor who was overseeing the company’s surveillance tactics. Song Ye, ByteDance’s head of audit who Lepitak reported to has also left the company.

In an internal email shared with Forbes, ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang apologized and acknowledged that TikTok’s reputation will likely take a hit. “I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation… and I’m sure you feel the same,” Liang wrote in the email. “The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals. … I believe this situation will serve as a lesson to us all.”

TikTok has become a cultural phenomenon in recent years, and the app has managed to make Instagram and Snapchat look slightly outdated thanks to an algorithm that can accurately predict the type of videos that will keep users engaged. However, Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok is said to be less addictive, and kids under 14 in China can’t use it for more than 40 minutes a day.

If TikTok has been facing scrutiny for years in the US and other western countries, the company has also been trying different tactics to prove that it isn’t China’s Trojan Horse. As Reuters reported yesterday, TikTok is currently seeking to reach a security deal with the US government, and the company promises to implement new security measures guaranteeing that TikTok’s technology infrastructure remains separate from ByteDance.

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