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TikTok parent company lays off employees for tracking US user data – Reuters

Those affected by inappropriate access to personal information include two journalists, an internal email seen by the NYT shows

ByteDance – the Chinese parent company of TikTok – announced on Thursday that it had conducted an internal investigation which found that several of its employees had improperly accessed US user data, including two journalists.

In an internal corporate email seen by The New York Times, the company said it had tasked four employees with finding the source of an alleged internal communications leak this summer. During their search, the workers decided to access the IP addresses and other data of a number of US citizens through their TikTok accounts, but ultimately found no leaks.

Among those whose data was accessed were journalists Emily Baker-White, who works for Forbes, and Cristina Criddle of the Financial Times, according to the company’s email, which did not disclose the identities of other users of TikTok concerned.

ByteDance says it has since fired the four employees involved in the scheme, noting that two of them were based in China while the others worked in the United States. The company also said it had restructured its internal audit and risk management team and removed all access to US data from that department.

The announcement comes after Forbes published an article in October accusing the China-based team of ByteDance of using the TikTok app to monitor the personal locations of some US citizens.

TikTok initially denied the allegations, insisting it hadn’t collected “precise GPS location information of US users,” and only used IP addresses to help show “relevant content and ads.”

Previously, US lawmakers as well as the last two administrations have raised concerns about TikTok’s privacy and security risks. In 2020, former US President Donald Trump even asked the government to consider a total ban on the social media platform, calling it a national security threat.

Although a full ban never happened, governors of a number of states have officially banned the installation of TikTok on all government-issued devices. US senators also introduced a proposal to ban federal government employees from using the app on state-owned devices. Republican Senator Josh Hawley called out TikTok “a Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party.”

Beijing dismissed the accusations as an attempt by US lawmakers to discredit a Chinese tech giant that competes with Western social media platforms.

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