“this scandal could not have come at a worse time for TikTok, which is currently negotiating a national security contract with the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to address national security concerns raised by the app.”
During an internal investigation, communist China-based ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, was reportedly found to have spied on Forbes journalists who were reporting on China.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has admitted to spying on Forbes journalists as part of a “covert surveillance campaign” aimed at unearthing the source of leaks inside the company following multiple stories exposing the organization’s deep ties to China and the ruling Communist Party.
Forbes reportedly exclusively on Thursday that ByteDance had “tracked multiple journalists covering the company, improperly gaining access to their IP addresses and user data in an attempt to identify whether they had been in the same locales as ByteDance employees.”
Investigations by Forbes into ByteDance’s surveillance tactics led to the firing of the company’s chief internal auditor Chris Lepitak who led these operations. The revelations also led to the resignation of China-based executive Song Ye, who Lepitak reported to and who had reported directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang.
According to the Forbes exclusive, Forbes came to the CCP-linked company’s attention in October.
Forbes first reported the surveillance tactics, which were overseen by a China-based team at ByteDance, in October. Asked for comment on that story, ByteDance and TikTok did not deny the surveillance, but took to Twitter after the story was published to say that “TikTok has never been used to ‘target’ any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists,” and that “TikTok could not monitor U.S. users in the way the article suggested.” In the internal email, Liang acknowledged that TikTok had been used in exactly this way, as Forbes had reported.
The investigation, internally known as Project Raven, began this summer after BuzzFeed News published a story revealing that China-based ByteDance employees had repeatedly accessed U.S. user data, based on more than 80 hours of audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings. According to internal ByteDance documents reviewed by Forbes, Project Raven involved the company’s Chief Security and Privacy Office, was known to TikTok’s Head of Global Legal Compliance, and was approved by ByteDance employees in China. It tracked Emily Baker-White, Katharine Schwab and Richard Nieva, three Forbes journalists that formerly worked at BuzzFeed News.
“This is a direct assault on the idea of a free press and its critical role in a functioning democracy,” says Randall Lane, the chief content officer of Forbes. “We await a direct response from ByteDance, as this raises fundamental questions about what they are doing with the information they compile from TikTok users.”
TikTok and ByteDance issued statements.
After this story was published, TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide said, “The misconduct of certain individuals, who are no longer employed at ByteDance, was an egregious misuse of their authority to obtain access to user data. This misbehavior is unacceptable, and not in line with our efforts across TikTok to earn the trust of our users.”
ByteDance spokesperson Jennifer Banks added, “ByteDance condemns this misguided plan that violated the company’s Code of Conduct.” She said that ByteDance has not found evidence that the company surveilled Forbes journalists beyond Baker-White, but that the investigation is ongoing. Internal company materials reviewed by Forbes indicate surveillance of Schwab and Nieva as well.
In a separate Forbes article, the outlet reports that lawmakers have expressed concern and outrage at the abuse of power and attacks on privacy.
Legislators in Washington reacted with outrage to admissions by TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, that they improperly used the video-sharing app to spy on reporters covering the company.
After the October report, Republican members of Congress James Comer and Cathy McMorris Rodgers requested documentation from TikTok and ByteDance regarding the targets and purpose of the surveillance.
. . . . On Thursday, McMorris Rodgers tweeted, “TikTok has placed the safety and privacy of Americans in jeopardy. They have gone on record numerous times claiming that they do not share Americans’ data with China. We know that is a lie, and we now know the list has grown to include U.S. journalists. Accountability is coming.”
In a statement to Forbes, Senator Ron Wyden (D-WA) endorsed those concerns: “Using customer data to spy on journalists and employees is a scandal that casts doubt on every promise TikTok has made about protecting personal information. Sadly, it’s not the first time a tech company has abused the massive store of information it holds about its customers. As long as corporations have access to detailed data about their users’ movements, personal contacts and interests, companies and governments will be tempted to misuse it.”
Forbes notes that “this scandal could not have come at a worse time for TikTok, which is currently negotiating a national security contract with the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to address national security concerns raised by the app.”
Why anyone is surprised is a mystery to me. Communist China has zero respect for privacy, free speech, a free press, or freedom of any kind.DONATE
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