ByteDance, the Chinese parent organization of the well-known social media app TikTok, has conceded that some of its employees improperly obtained the Internet Protocol (IP) address of 2 journalists working for the United States (US) and utilized this information to track their physical location using TikTok. The IP addresses in question were obtained by using the app.
When users connect to applications, websites, or other online services, the user's IP address is communicated to the receiving app, website, or service. This user's geographical location may be deduced from their IP address, which is always publicly available.
After conducting an internal inquiry, ByteDance came forth with the admission and said that Emily Baker-White, a former writer for BuzzFeed who now works for Forbes, and Cristina Criddle, a reporter for the Financial Times, were both targeted by the company's surveillance. ByteDance has also confirmed that the data of "a limited number of persons linked to the reporters" was accessed inappropriately. Forbes stated that two of its other correspondents, Katharine Schwab and Richard Nieva, who had previously worked for BuzzFeed News, were also monitored.
The vast majority of journalists who were harassed by TikTok had previously written about the firm, and several of these articles discussed the challenges faced by TikTok as well as the privacy issues that are involved with using the app. For instance, Baker-White has previously written on ByteDance's intentions to utilize TikTok to track the physical whereabouts of Americans, but Criddle has previously reported on "TikTok Shop's difficult growth in the United Kingdom."
ByteDance employees who were part of a Beijing-based "Internal Audit and Risk Control" department, which is primarily responsible for monitoring employee conduct, attempted to find the sources of suspected leaks to journalists during the summer, which is when the surveillance of these journalists and other users took place. The department's primary responsibility is to monitor employee conduct. In order to accomplish this goal, the staff gained unauthorized access to the IP addresses as well as other data belonging to the journalists and other users. This monitoring was conducted with the intention of determining whether or not the journalists and other users were in close proximity to the ByteDance workers.
Four workers of ByteDance were involved in this monitoring; two of them were working in China, while the other two were working in the United States. Allegedly, all four of the staffers who carried out the surveillance on the American journalists have been terminated from their positions.
Before these findings, ByteDance and TikTok have on many occasions refuted accusations that they intended to monitor users in the United States. TikTok has previously said that Baker-article White's on ByteDance's intentions to utilize TikTok to track the physical whereabouts of people in the United States lacked "rigor and journalistic integrity." In addition, the Head of Public Policy for TikTok said on Sunday that accusations of TikTok exchanging user data from the United States with China were "wrong," "not correct," and "misinformation."
The wrongdoing of specific employees, who are no longer working at ByteDance, was an extreme abuse of their power to get access to user data, according to Hilary McQuaide, a spokeswoman for TikTok, who talked to Forbes about the matter.
According to Randall Lane, a chief content officer of Forbes, the monitoring is "a direct attack on the notion of a free press and its crucial role in a healthy democracy."
"Outrageous: TikTok has admitted using its app to track the movements of two journalists reporting on the company, including the FT's Cristina Criddle, who delivered fearless reporting about problems at its commerce unit," said the news editor of the Financial Times, Matthew Garrahan. "Outrageous: TikTok has admitted using its app to track the movements of two journalists reporting on the company."
Senator Mark Warner commented further, saying, "This new development reinforces serious concerns that the social media platform has permitted TikTok engineers and executives in the People's Republic of China to repeatedly access the private data of U.S. users, despite making repeated claims to lawmakers and users that this data was protected." The Department of Justice (DoJ) has also been promising for over a year that they are looking into methods to secure U.S. user data from Bytedance and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). It is time for the DoJ to come out with that answer, or else Congress might soon be compelled to weigh in.
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