TikTok admits to tracking Financial Times journalist who used the app

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ByteDance, the Chinese owner of viral social media platform TikTok, has admitted it improperly obtained data from users, including a Financial Times journalist, to analyze their location as part of an internal leak investigation.

During the summer [de junho a setembro no hemisfério norte]four employees on ByteDance’s internal audit team reviewed sharing internal information with journalists.

Two team members in the United States and two in China gained access to Financial Times journalist Cristina Criddle’s IP addresses and other personal data to find out if she was close to any ByteDance employees, the company said. However, the company did not find any leaks.

A BuzzFeed journalist and several users connected to the reporters through their TikTok accounts were also targeted.

Since June, the FT has published a series of reports conducted by Criddle, which revealed that dozens of employees have left TikTok’s London office since early 2022, with some reports of working 12-hour days or of employees being sacked after taking leave. . Some employees also described a “deadly list” of colleagues the company wanted to oust from the London office.

Joshua Ma, the ByteDance executive responsible for expanding e-commerce in Europe, was replaced after the Financial Times revealed that he had told employees in London that he “doesn’t believe” in maternity leave.

The findings of ByteDance’s internal investigation, which was led by its global legal compliance team in conjunction with an external law firm, were announced in an email to employees and first reported by The New York Times. The investigation was sparked by a Forbes article about lawmakers banning the app in the United States over privacy and security concerns.

General Counsel Erich Andersen wrote to staff that a “misguided plan was developed and executed by some individuals in the internal audit department last summer”, adding that those involved “misused their authority to gain access to TikTok user data”, violating its code of conduct.

In another email to employees, ByteDance chief executive Liang Rubo wrote that the company needed to “deeply reflect on our actions and think about how we can prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

TikTok declined to comment further.

Behind Thursday’s revelations, one person on the employee conduct team resigned, while the other three were fired. ByteDance has since restructured its internal audit team and removed that department’s access to US data.

News of the tracking comes as TikTok is already facing growing political backlash in the US over national security concerns that data it collects on US users could be passed on to the Chinese government and the Communist Party — allegations the company denies.

Last week, the US Senate unanimously passed a bill banning federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. The House is expected to vote on the matter later this week. Meanwhile, several US states, including Maryland, Texas and Iowa, have also taken steps to prevent employees from installing TikTok on government devices.

For months now, TikTok has been working on a national security agreement with the US government in response to the scrutiny. The deal, which has yet to close, would involve partnering with Oracle to put US users’ data on the US cloud software company’s servers and put in place tighter controls over whether and how Chinese employees can access that data.

For the Financial Times, “Spying on reporters, interfering with their work or intimidating their sources is completely unacceptable. We will be investigating this story further before deciding on our formal response.”

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