TikTok has admitted that it used its own app to spy on reporters as part of an attempt to track down the journalists’ sources, according to an internal email.
The data was accessed by employees of ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company and was used to track the reporters’ physical movements. The company’s chief internal auditor Chris Lepitak, who led the team involved in the operation, has been fired, while his China-based manager Song Ye has resigned.
They looked at IP addresses of journalists who were using the TikTok app in an attempt to learn if they were in the same location as employees suspected of leaking confidential information. The effort, which targeted former BuzzFeed reporter Emily Baker-White and Financial Times reporter Cristina Criddle among other reporters, was unsuccessful, but resulted in at least four members of staff based in both the US and China improperly accessing the data, according to an email from ByteDance general counsel Erich Andersen. All four have been fired. Company officials said they were taking additional steps to protect user data.
ByteDance chief executive Rubo Liang, the direct manager of Song Ye, said he was “deeply disappointed” in an internal email, where Baker-White now works. “The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals … I believe this situation will serve as a lesson to us all.”
ByteDance and TikTok had initially issued categorical denials of the allegations