ByteDance admits accessing data from US journalists

Employees of ByteDance, the China-based company that owns TikTok and its Chinese counterpart Douyin, accessed data from TikTok to track a Financial Times reporter and a former BuzzFeed reporter in a bid to identify the source of leaks to the media, ByteDance’s general counsel Erich Andersen admitted in an email seen by Agence France Presse (AFP) on December 23, 2022.

On Thursday, ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, released the results of an internal investigation. Yes, ByteDance confirmed, four of its employees in China scooped up the data of two TikTok accounts belonging to U.S. journalists. And TikTok wasn’t supposed to do that. 

In an email to employees, the CEO of Beijing-based ByteDance, Rubo Liang, said he was “deeply disappointed” and that “the public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals.” In another internal email, TikTok’s CEO who reports to Liang, Shou Chew, referred to the incident as “the poorly conceived acts of a few people.” And in a third email, TikTok general counsel Erich Andersen said the company’s Internet Audit and Risk team is being restructured in response.

The revelation came as US lawmakers aim to restrict TikTok over national security concerns, including banning it from government devices.

The plan failed, however, partly because the IP addresses only revealed approximate location data.

The revelation comes as US lawmakers make moves to restrict TikTok over national security concerns, including banning it from government phones. It also shows ByteDance walking back denials that TikTok has never been used to “target” journalists.

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