ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, confirmed that an internal investigation found that some employees of the social network "improperly accessed" the private data of U.S. users, according to internal emails published by The New York Times.
A ByteDance team charged with monitoring employee conduct revealed that workers accessed the IP addresses and other data of four journalists and a group of people associated with them through their TikTok accounts, information that had previously been published by media outlet Forbes, last October.
Improper access to data
The employees were part of a TikTok monitoring program and were investigating four journalists - three from Forbes and one from the Financial Times.
The company justified the breach of privacy in order to find "alleged leaks of internal conversations and business documents to journalists." And he said they were allegedly "trying to determine if these people were in close proximity to ByteDance employees." Although the attempt to find the source of the leaks failed, the workers gained access to users' data, which is a breach of security and privacy of their data.
Employees laid off and TikTok banned
ByteDance's four employees - two of whom were based in the United States and the other two in China - were dismissed, and the internal audit and risk team has been restructured. In addition, access to U.S. user data was removed from the department.
ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo said in an email to the NYT that he was "deeply disappointed" by the findings:
The public trust that we have invested enormous effort in building will be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals.
The Hill expressed how these findings "confirm existing concerns about Chinese-owned ByteDance's employees' access to the private data of U.S. citizens," and asserts that "China's Communist government exercises tight control over companies and business."
Several states have recently banned the use of TikTok on government devices, and Congress' $1.7 trillion spending package includes a federal ban of the social network on government phones.