TikTok’s parent company fired four employees for accessing data on western journalists


TikTok’s parent company ByteDance Ltd. has fired some employees after it was discovered they’d improperly accessed the personal data of U.S. journalists, news that will no doubt vindicate those U.S. politicians who’ve been saying the Chinese app is a threat to national security.

An internal investigation at the company found that at least two journalists had been tracked, as well as other users of the app inside the U.S. It revealed that the employees had been trying to ascertain who’d been leaking information to the press.

Two of the people whose data was accessed had worked for the Financial Times and BuzzFeed, while the staff doing the snooping were based in both the U.S. and China. IP addresses were tracked so that it might be discovered who’d been around TikTok employees and possibly passed on information.

“I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation,” said ByteDance Chief Executive Rubo Liang in an email to employees. “The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals.”

For a long time now, certain politicians in the U.S. have warned that the Chinese app poses a security risk to the U.S., accusing it of being spying apparatus for the Chinese Communist Party. It was almost banned in the U.S. under the Trump administration but came through that period relatively unharmed.

The revelations today couldn’t have come at a worse time, given that scrutiny over the immensely popular app has just heated up again. Several states in December banned the app on all government-issued devices, stating that TikTok might well be in the game of harvesting data for the Chinese government.

TikTok’s Chief Executive Shou Chew told his employees in an email that the tracking was “unacceptable.” He added, “The individuals involved misused their authority to obtain access to TikTok user data.”

The U.S. is currently in talks with TikTok so that the company can address national security concerns, so this latest hiccup has certainly thrown a wrench in the works in that regard. ByteDance knows it has messed up, emphasized in the words of Liang, who told staff, “We need to deeply reflect on our actions and think about how we can prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

Photo: Alexander Shatov/Flickr

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