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23 Dec, 2022 15:34

TikTok parent company fires workers over US users’ data tracking

Those affected by inappropriate personal information access include two journalists, an internal email seen by the NYT shows
TikTok parent company fires workers over US users’ data tracking

ByteDance – the Chinese parent company of TikTok – announced on Thursday that it had conducted an internal investigation that discovered several of its employees had inappropriately accessed the data of US users, including two journalists.

In an internal company email seen by the New York Times, the company said it had tasked four employees with finding the source of a suspected leak of internal communications this summer. During their search, the workers decided to gain access to the IP addresses and other data of a number of US citizens via their TikTok accounts but ultimately failed to find any leaks. 

Among those whose data was accessed were journalists Emily Baker-White, who works for Forbes, and Cristina Criddle of the Financial Times, according to the company email, which did not disclose the identities of other affected TikTok users.

ByteDance says it has since fired all four employees involved in the scheme, noting that two of them were based in China while the others worked in the US. The company has also said it has restructured its internal audit and risk team and removed any access to US data from that department.

The announcement comes after Forbes published an article in October accusing ByteDance’s China-based team of using the TikTok app to monitor the personal locations of specific American citizens. 

TikTok initially denied the allegations, insisting that it did not collect “precise GPS location information from US users,” and only used IP addresses to help show “relevant content and ads.”

Previously, US lawmakers as well as the past two administrations had raised concerns over TikTok’s privacy and security risks. In 2020, former US president Donald Trump even instructed the government to consider a total ban on the social media platform, calling it a national security threat. 

While a complete ban never took place, governors from a number of states have officially outlawed installing TikTok on any government-issued devices. US senators have also introduced a proposal to ban federal government employees from using the app on state-owned devices. Republican senator Josh Hawley has called TikTok “a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beijing has dismissed these accusations as an attempt by US lawmakers to discredit a Chinese tech giant which is competing with Western social media platforms.