US prosecutors are investigating ByteDance’s use of TikTok to track down journalists

The US Justice Department is investigating ByteDance’s surveillance of US journalists via TikTok, according to a person familiar with the matter, while authorities are scrutinizing the Chinese owner of the popular social media platform after it admitted improperly using user data. have obtained.

ByteDance revealed in December that user data from the short video app was obtained to study journalists’ locations as part of an internal investigation into information shared with the media.

The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia have asked ByteDance for information about how staff used TikTok to find details of the locations of U.S. journalists and other private data, according to Forbes, which was the first to report on the investigations. .

A British Financial Times journalist, Cristina Criddle, who spearheaded a series of stories showing that dozens of staff had left TikTok’s London office and some had been working 12-hour days or demoted after taking time off, was one of the targets.

ByteDance employees in the US and China obtained her IP addresses and other personal information to assess whether she was around ByteDance employees, but the company found no leaks.

The company also targeted a BuzzFeed reporter and several users linked to the journalists through their TikTok accounts.

ByteDance said on Thursday: “We strongly condemn the actions of the individuals involved and they are no longer employed by ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing and we will cooperate with any official investigations as they are brought to us.”

The DoJ and FBI declined to comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The probes come as the US government has threatened to ban TikTok for national security reasons if ByteDance does not sell its stake. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the U.S. Treasury-led panel that vets foreign investment in the country, has requested the divestment as part of its review of the app, according to people familiar with the matter.

TikTok has come under scrutiny over fears that US users’ data may be shared with the Chinese government, the company has denied. A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill that would give the Biden administration the power to ban Chinese apps that pose a threat to security.

TikTok has been working on a national security deal with the US government for two years, though negotiations have recently stalled. TikTok has spent more than $1.5 billion on “Project Texas,” a corporate restructuring plan to protect user data and content from Chinese influence through a partnership with US cloud software group Oracle to meet Cfius requests.

Additional reporting by Hannah Murphy in San Francisco

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