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A report from the Chinese company says that four ByteDance employees broke company policy by getting unauthorized access to data on U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists, in order to find the source of information leaks.
ByteDance said that it fired two of its workers in China and all four of its workers in the United States for “misconduct.”
The New York Times was the first to report on the internal ByteDance report, which found that employees had access to the IP addresses and other information about two U.S. reporters through their TikTok accounts. One worked for BuzzFeed News, and the other worked for the Financial Times.
The Times says that the people who were watching the journalists wanted to know if they had been around other ByteDance employees.
The fact that ByteDance employees stole user data from TikTok comes at a time when American lawmakers have criticized the short-form video app. This is because TikTok is owned by a China-based conglomerate that the Chinese Communist Party controls.
TikTok has been trying to finish a deal with the Biden administration to address U.S. concerns about the security of user data in the app and ensure the Chinese government can’t get to that data.
Reps for BuzzFeed and the FT criticized ByteDance for spying on their reporters. They pointed out that the news outlets had recently written about how ByteDance employees in China could access U.S. users’ data and how the company tried to get Americans to listen to pro-China messages. A spokesperson for the U.K.’s Financial Times said, “It is completely unacceptable to spy on reporters, mess with their work, or try to scare their sources.”
In a letter to the employees, ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang said, “No matter what the cause or result was, this misguided investigation seriously broke the company’s Code of Conduct.
He also said that Bytedance couldn’t take risks with its reputation, which would hurt the trust of users, employees, and other important people. He said the social media company must be smart about the people they hire and ensure they represent the company’s values.
Liang also said that ByteDance is taking immediate steps to calm the situation and fix it, but that “what’s more important is that we need to think deeply about what we did and how we can stop similar things from happening again.”
Forbes said in October that ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department, which looks into possible employee wrongdoing, planned to track where U.S. TikTok users were. TikTok said this was not true. In its previous statement, TikTok said that the app “has never been used to ‘target’ any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures, or journalists.”
US lawmakers targets ByteDance
This month, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio led an effort in Congress to pass a bill with support from both parties urging President Biden to use emergency powers to ban TikTok in the U.S. A bill by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) would also make it illegal for TikTok to be installed on any federal device.
An anonymous source told Reuters on Thursday that TikTok spent $1.5 billion to set up a data security division in the U.S. This was done to meet the requirements of the U.S. government.
TikTok has a deal with Oracle to store user app data in the U.S., and TikTok has suggested that Oracle be able to look at app and server code.
According to a report by Reuters, TikTok has also proposed making a board to oversee the U.S. security division that would be outside ByteDance’s control. The board would have three members screened by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Reuters also said that TikTok was looking to hire independent auditors and monitors who would be paid by the company but would report to CFIUS.
In the last few months of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an order that said TikTok would be banned in the U.S. if ByteDance didn’t sell a controlling stake in the app to American investors.
The Times reported that Trump asked for the ban after TikTok users made fun of his campaign by making fake orders for tickets to one of his rallies. But Trump’s order was stopped by U.S. federal courts.
In June 2021, President Biden officially canceled Trump’s orders to ban TikTok. However, he also started investigating apps that have ties to “foreign adversaries” and may threaten national security or privacy.
Read Also: TikTok faces opposition from the US congress
Rubio said, “This isn’t about creating videos. This is about an app that collects data on millions of American children and adults daily.” The bill in the Senate wants to ban TikTok in the U.S. He also said, “We know it’s used to change feeds and sway elections. We know that the People’s Republic of China is in charge. No more time is wasted on pointless talks with a company that works for the CCP. It’s time to ban TikTok, run by Beijing.”