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.
“I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation… and I’m sure you feel the same,” Liang wrote in an internal email obtained by Forbes. “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.”
“It is standard practice for companies to have an internal audit group authorized to investigate code of conduct violations,” added TikTok General Counsel Erich Andersen wrote in a separate internal email shared with Forbes. “However, in this case, individuals misused their authority to obtain access to TikTok user data.”
The revelations add further weight to the mountain of evidence that TikTok engages in illegal surveillance operations and retains strong links to Beijing that likely represent a serious threat to U.S. national security. Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced bipartisan legislation seeking to ban TikTok from all U.S. operations on this basis.
“The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok,” Rubio said in a statement. “This isn’t about creative videos—this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day. We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections. We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.”
TikTok vigorously denies these claims, with the company's Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas testifying back in September that the Chinese regime influences their operations “in no way, shape or form.” The company currently remains in negotiations with the United States Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to address these concerns.