It’s no secret that over the past few years, TikTok has been under a lot of scrutiny regarding its data privacy practices. However, when reports of the company firing employees for using the app to spy on the locations of two journalists emerged last year, it sparked a new wave of controversy. Now, the FBI and the Department of Justice are also looking into the matter and have launched an investigation against TikTok over national security concerns.
The incident was first confirmed in an internal ByteDance investigation, where the company found out that some employees accessed data on American journalists’ TikTok accounts to figure out which employees were leaking information to reporters. While ByteDance says they immediately fired the involved employees, this security lapse has caused US lawmakers to question the company’s privacy practices as they worry that the Chinese government is using TikTok to gather intelligence on US citizens.
The details of the investigation are still unclear, but Forbes says TikTok has already received subpoenas from the Department of Justice, and the FBI has also started conducting interviews related to the matter.
In response to the investigation, ByteDance stated, “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.”
Mounting pressure on TikTok
This development also comes at a time when US regulators have been mounting pressure on ByteDance to sell off the US division or face a complete ban. However, TikTok has rejected the demand for divestiture, stating that it won’t address the government’s concerns. Instead, the company proposed “Project Texas,” a $1.5 billion initiative that would store US user data domestically and subject the company to an auditing process conducted by American tech giant Oracle.