An investigation was launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice into ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, over allegations that its employees spied on American journalists and other associates, Forbes reported on Friday. Last December, ByteDance admitted that its employees collected data on American TikTok users, including technology reporter Emily Baker-White from Forbes. According to Baker-White, her location was tracked by employees who were attempting to identify her sources.
The Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia had reportedly subpoenaed employee information from ByteDance, while the FBI has been conducting interviews related to the allegations. Two employees, both based in China, allegedly collected location information and other private user data through the application, and were later terminated by ByteDance.
“We have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance,” stated Banks.
“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,” said Jennifer Banks, a spokesperson for ByteDance, in a statement to Forbes.
“The Biden administration is currently putting pressure on ByteDance to sell TikTok amid growing national security concerns or risk being banned in the United States. However, it is unclear if the federal government has given the company a deadline,” according to the report by Forbes.
“The administration is committed to promoting an open, interoperable, reliable and secure internet, protecting human rights online, and supporting a vibrant, global digital economy. As part of this commitment, we are reviewing risks to US telecommunications infrastructure, including the networks of TikTok and other software applications connected to China, and will address them as appropriate,” said press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a briefing on Thursday.
“We have expressed concerns over China’s potential use of software platforms that could endanger or threaten America’s safety and their national security. So that is the President’s concern. That is why we have called on Congress to take action,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
According to sources cited by the New York Post, TikTok has been in talks with potential buyers.
“TikTok is committed to being a trusted and responsible corporate citizen in the US, which includes working with Congress, law enforcement and other regulatory agencies,” said a TikTok spokesperson, referring to the company’s previous commitment to investing $1.5 billion on “Project Texas” to address national security concerns. However, the plan was ultimately rejected by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” Shanahan explained.
Maureen Shanahan, a TikTok spokesperson, told the New York Post that a ban on the app would not address national security concerns. “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” Shanahan explained. Meanwhile, NBC News reported that both the DOJ and FBI declined to comment on the matter.