ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent, stated Thursday that an internal investigation revealed that employees had improperly obtained data from American TikTok users including two reporters.
A handful of employees from the ByteDance monitoring team tried to identify sources of suspicious leaks of internal conversations to reporters. The employees were able to access the IP addresses and other data for two reporters, as well as a small number people connected to them via their TikTok accounts. According to ByteDance’s website, they were trying determine if those individuals were close friends of employees.
After an article was published, the investigation began. ForbesThe investigation confirms the part of this report and sheds light on it. Privacy and security risksTikTok is something that US lawmakers and state governors, as well as the Trump-Biden government, have been teasing for over two years. TikTok is banned by more than a dozen states from government-issued gadgets. The company has been in lengthy negotiations over security and privacy measures, which would prevent any possible access to US user information by ByteDance.
Eric Andersen, ByteDance general Counsel, shared the findings of the investigation, which had been conducted by an outside legal firm, in an email sent to employees on Thursday.
According to the company, all four employees involved were fired. This is correcting an earlier statement that stated that one of the four had quit. Two of the four employees involved in the scheme were in China, while two were in the United States. ByteDance claimed it has restructured the internal audit and risk department and removed any access from that department to US data. BuzzFeed reported that the targeted reporters wrote to ByteDance, The Financial Times and others, though it declined their identities and those of other TikTok users. BuzzFeed stated that it was “deeply disturbed” by the investigation’s results and was not notified by TikTok or ByteDance. “We intend to examine our legal options moving forward,” said the company.
Robo Liang, CEO of ByteDance, and Mr Andresen both disclosed the results in separate emails to employees.
“I was very disappointed when the situation was brought to my attention…and I’m certain you feel the exact same,” Mr. Liang wrote. “Misconduct on the part of a few people will greatly undermine the public trust that we have spent so much effort to build.”
Shou Zi Chew, TikTok CEO, also sent an email about the investigation to his staff. He expressed disappointment and reiterated the company’s commitment in protecting US data.
“We take data security incredibly seriously,” Mr. Chiu said in the email. He said that over the past 15 month, the company has been working to create a new US data warehousing program “as an example of that commitment.”
According to officials from TikTok and ByteDance, the employees had access to historical data. The company claimed that it was putting all US data onto Oracle’s cloud. However, employees who had previously accessed the data were still able to access them. TikTok stated that it plans to erase all historical data other than Oracle’s.
The Revelation is in the midst of Growing concerns by US officialsTikTok is a popular video-sharing app that has over 100 million users in the United States. This raises questions about national security and privacy. ByteDance purchased TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) in 2017. Since then, it has been the subject of national security officials. They claim that the app is closely connected to its parent company in China, and could place sensitive data such as the geolocation, habits, and interests of users in the United States. The Chinese government now has the app.
Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s Chief Operating Officer, was appointed in September. Testified at a Senate hearingThe app has not shared data to the Chinese government. The company has attempted to distance the app form ByteDance. TikTok, which has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Singapore, stated that it has its own corporate structure.
ByteDance, a Silicon Valley software company, moved US users’ data into a cloud storage system managed by Oracle to address national security concerns.
TikTok was shut down during negotiations with the Biden administration. This is due to a security plan to transfer all US data, and to erect barriers around the data to stop the Chinese government accessing it. Negotiations began under the Trump administration. In recent weeks, negotiations have stalled, prompting a series state and federal restrictions on TikTok’s use. Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a Virginia Democrat, called for the administration to stop its talks with TikTok over national security reforms to this app.
“This new development reinforces serious concerns that the social media platform has allowed TikTok engineers and executives in the People’s Republic of China to repeatedly access private data of US users despite repeated claims by lawmakers and users that this data is protected,” Mr. Warner said. . “It is time for Congress to act quickly or it may be necessary to move forward with this solution.”
Congress will vote this week on a proposal to ban TikTok devices from federally-issued devices. Intelligence officials, including FBI director, are expected to vote on a proposal that would ban TikTok from federally issued devices. Christopher RayThey warned that Chinese officials could seize sensitive data from Americans for surveillance and propaganda purposes.
TikTok is caught in the middle of an intensifying economic and trade conflict between the US and China over technological leadership. Great powers have placed trade restrictions on foreign-made technology and poured hundreds billions of dollars in grants and subsidies to help restore technology supply chains within their borders.
With Democratic support, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation that would ban TikTok from all consumer devices. Although legal experts predict that the bill will be challenged under the First Amendment due to its complexity, it highlights the mounting pressure for the app to be banned.
“No one should take ByteDance’s public apologies for their mistake seriously,” Rubio said in a statement referring to the internal investigation. “The company is desperate to curb growing bipartisan concerns about how the Chinese Communist Party is enabling the use of — and possibly weaponization of — the data of American citizens. Every day it becomes clearer that we need to ban TikTok.”
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