Mehul Reuben DasDec 23, 2022 17:10:07 IST
It seems that TikTok just can’t stay away from controversy. After getting banned from the smartphones of government employees and off of government computers across a bunch of states in the United States, TikTok owner ByteDance today confirmed reports from this fall that claimed some of its employees used the popular app to track multiple journalists. This comes amid strong calls for a boycott and banning of the app by both, Democratic and Republican senators and house representatives.
A Ney York Times report revealed that ByteDance had fired as many as four employees for illegally accessing TikTok’s internal data and spying on American journalists who were writing on TikTok, ByteDance and the company’s close ties with Beijing.
According to Forbes, some journalists from its own newspaper “were victims in this clandestine monitoring effort.” FT stated that Cristina Criddle, a UK-based Financial Times writer, and a reporter for Buzzfeed were both under surveillance.
Workers of ByteDance allegedly gained access to reporters’ TikTok accounts to collect IP and user data in order to see whether there was any overlap with pings coming from areas where ByteDance employees were suspected of leaking information. ByteDance admitted that these strategies had spread to the point that staff members were also keeping an eye on some of the journalists’ associates’ data.
According to Forbes, ByteDance fired Chris Lepitak, the chief internal auditor responsible for the company’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department. ByteDance confirmed Lepitak’s team was behind the surveillance campaign. In October, Forbes reported that Lepitak was also seemingly seeking information on the “location and details of the Oracle server that is central to TikTok’s plans to limit foreign access to personal US user data.”
That server is key to the Biden administration’s ongoing discussions with TikTok over national security concerns, with the US increasingly wary of China-based ByteDance employees gaining access to US-stored data.
Lepitak’s staff “misused their position to get access to TikTok user data” in order to monitor journalists, according to an internal email obtained by Forbes from TikTok General Counsel Erich Andersen.
FT reported that four employees were involved, and Forbes reported that ByteDance fired two employees based in the US and two in China. ByteDance spokesperson Hilary McQuaide echoed Andersen’s email in a statement saying that “the misconduct of certain individuals, who are no longer employed at ByteDance, was an egregious misuse of their authority to obtain access to user data.”