TikTok’s parent company is being investigated over claims that the app is spying on American journalists and citizens.
- A Thursday report from Forbes reveals that the Department of Justice has been investigating TikTok owner ByteDance since late 2022.
- Forbes reporter Emily Baker-White claims to be one of the journalists, noting that “ByteDance’s confirmation that it surveilled journalists appeared to contradict the promises it had made to the U.S. government.”
- Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia has subpoenaed ByteDance regarding its actions in attempting to survey the location and private information of journalists.
- The investigation could increase bipartisan calls to ban the popular social-media app.
Why It’s Important
The Trump administration, Biden administration, and dozens of world governments have highly scrutinized the popular social-media app after years of claims that the app heavily samples user data. These accusations have resulted in the U.S. government banning TikTok from government devices, with the Canadian government and other governments taking similar measures to avoid data breaches.
President Joe Biden demanded earlier this week that ByteDance fully divests from TikTok, or the U.S. government will consider a full ban on the app.
ByteDance has been eager to meet U.S. demands, as their app is currently one of the most popular in the world. TikTok began working on Project Texas in 2021, a $1.5-billion effort to build local servers within the U.S. that members of the Chinese Community Party cannot access.
Forbes, a leading voice in breaking the story, says TikTok’s ability to limit government access is minimal. On March 7, a whistleblower revealed to Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) that ByteDance’s influence over the Chinese government is “superficial” and that officials can easily access any information desired, thanks to backdoor access. TikTok denies the claim.
“We have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official investigations when brought to us,” ByteDance spokesman Jennifer Banks tells Forbes.
“TikTok and ByteDance employees allegedly allow for similarly easy access to U.S. data. According to the whistleblower, some tools, such as Aeolus, only require approval from a manager and a dataset owner before an employee can access U.S. data. Most concerningly, the whistleblower reports: ‘I have seen first-hand China-based engineers flipping over to non-China datasets and creating scheduled tasks to backup, aggregate, and analyze data,’” says Senator Hawley.