Chinese ByteDance admits using TikTok data to track journalists

BEIJING: Employees of the Chinese tech giant ByteDance misaccessed data from social media platform ICT Tac to track journalists in a bid to identify the source of leaks to the media, the company admitted on Friday.
TikTok has gone to great lengths to convince customers and governments in major markets like the United States that user data privacy is protected and poses no threat to national security.
But parent company ByteDance told AFP on Friday that several staff members had accessed the data of two journalists as part of an internal investigation into the company’s information leaks to the media.
They had hoped to identify links between staff and a Financial Times reporter and a former BuzzFeed reporter, according to an email from ByteDance general counsel Erich Andersen seen by AFP.
The two journalists previously reported on the contents of documents leaked by the company.
None of the employees involved remained employed by ByteDance, Andersen said, although he did not disclose how many were terminated.
In a statement to AFP, ByteDance said it condemned “the misguided initiative which seriously violated the company’s code of conduct”.
Employees had obtained journalists’ IP addresses in a bid to determine whether they were in the same location as ByteDance colleagues suspected of leaking confidential information, a company review of the system led by its compliance team and an outside law firm found, according to Andersen.
The plan failed, however, in part because the IP addresses revealed only approximate location data.
TikTok is back in the spotlight in the United States, with Congress poised to approve a nationwide ban on the popular short-form video app on government devices due to perceived security risks.
The House of Representatives could pass legislation this week banning the use of TikTok on public servants’ work phones, a move that would follow bans in some 20 US states.
TikTok has sought to convince US authorities that US data is protected and stored on servers located in the country.
But following media reports, he also admitted China-based employees had access to US user data, although the company insisted it was under strict and very limited circumstances.


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