TikTok parent company acknowledges spying on journalists

China US Trump TikTok WeChat Order ByteDance
Women wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus chat as they pass by the ByteDance headquarters in Beijing, China on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered a sweeping but unspecified ban on dealings with the Chinese owners of consumer apps TikTok and WeChat, although it remains unclear if he has the legal authority to actually ban the apps from the U.S. TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) Ng Han Guan/AP

TikTok parent company acknowledges spying on journalists

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Employees from TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, spied on at least two journalists using data from the social media app.

At least four employees involved in monitoring employee conduct used data gathered from apps in the United States to track journalists in an attempt to determine the identity of specific leakers, according to the results of an internal investigation released on Thursday.

The revelations come as TikTok already faces additional scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in the U.S. over the possibility that it presents a national security threat because of its ties to the Chinese government.

The employees involved gained access to the IP address and other data relating to journalists from the Financial Times and BuzzFeed News, as well as a small number of people around them. The data were gathered in an attempt to determine if the people involved were in close proximity with any ByteDance employees.


“ByteDance used TikTok to track my location — and the locations of two of my colleagues — to try to find our sources,” tweeted Forbes’s Emily Baker-White. Baker-White previously worked at BuzzFeed News.

ByteDance said that, in response to the incident, it had fired Chris Lepitak, its chief internal auditor who oversaw employee conduct. Lepitak’s superior, the China-based executive Song Ye, also resigned from her role at the company, according to Forbes.

“I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation … and I’m sure you feel the same,” ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo wrote in an internal email. “The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals . … I believe this situation will serve as a lesson to us all.”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said that he was disappointed in the employees and emphasizing the company’s commitment to protecting U.S. data. “We take data security incredibly seriously,” Chew wrote in an internal email, stressing that the company had spent the last 15 months constructing new infrastructure in the U.S. to protect American user data.

It had been reported in October that TikTok attempted to surveil American civilians, including journalists. However, it was unclear who was being targeted at the time. The report sparked an internal investigation by ByteDance’s legal team. The reports also arrived months after allegations that China-based employees at TikTok had been able to access U.S. data arose.


Congress is expected to pass a ban on installing TikTok onto government devices this week through the omnibus spending bill. The Senate already passed the bill, and the House is expected to do so Friday.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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