May 28, 2023

TikTok monitors US journalists after leak

2 min read

Apparently, TikTok employees monitored the movement data of US journalists via the video app. That’s what an internal investigation showed. An isolated case, the company says.

According to research by “Forbes” magazine, employees of ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, used the app to spy on the location of several U.S. journalists.

Among them are said to be three “Forbes” journalists who had previously worked at the online magazine “Buzzfeed.” In the fall, Buzzfeed had already published research that made the misuse of user data public: The news site had received 80 audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings that proved, among other things, that the data of American TikTok users had been repeatedly accessed from China.

As a result of this publication, various TikTok employees are said to have repeatedly retrieved the journalists’ location data from the log files of the TikTok app on their smartphones. In this way, they had tried to find out whether TikTok employees had made contact with the journalists.

TikTok CEO expresses ‘disappointment’
An internal investigation into these practices at ByteDance is said to have subsequently led to the employee responsible for the measure, Chris Lepitak, being fired. One of the senior managers, Song Ye, also vacated his post. He had been Lepitak’s direct supervisor.

“Forbes” also quotes from an internal memo in which ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang condemns the action: “I was disappointed when I was informed of this situation […] and I’m sure you all feel the same way.”

He further wrote: “The public trust we have invested great effort in building will be noticeably undermined by the misconduct of a few.”

The new revelations also weaken TikTok’s position in the United States. The company faces a lot of trouble there anyway. Officials in 19 U.S. states are already prohibited from installing TikTok on their work cell phones.

Only recently, U.S. representatives from both parties introduced a bill to ban all social networks that are influenced by China or Russia – this would clearly affect TikTok.