ByteDance finds that two journalists’ TikTok user information was taken by employees.
ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the popular video app TikTok, said in an email seen by Reuters on Thursday that some employees improperly accessed the TikTok user data of two journalists and were no longer working for the company.
ByteDance employees looked at the data as part of an unsuccessful investigation into leaks of company information earlier this year. They were trying to find connections between two journalists, a former BuzzFeed reporter and a Financial Times reporter, and company employees, according to an email from ByteDance general counsel Erich Andersen.
The employees looked at the IP addresses of journalists to see if they were in the same place as employees who were thought to be leaking sensitive information.
Related: Experts say that the ban on TikTok for US government phones is getting stronger, which could hurt its ad revenue.
The news, which was first reported by the New York Times, could add to the pressure that lawmakers and the Biden administration are putting on TikTok in Washington over security concerns about user data from the U.S.
A person who knows about the situation said that two ByteDance employees in China and two in the United States who were involved in the incident were fired. Officials from the company said that they were taking more steps to keep user data safe.
This week, Congress will pass a bill that will make it illegal for U.S. government employees to download or use TikTok on devices owned by the government. More than a dozen governors have already made it illegal for state employees to use TikTok on devices owned by the state.
In a statement, the Financial Times said that “spying on reporters, getting in the way of their work, or trying to scare their sources is totally wrong.” “We’ll learn more about this story before we decide what our official response will be.”
Lizzie Grams, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed News, said that the report made the company very upset because it showed “a clear disregard for the privacy and rights of journalists and TikTok users.”
On Thursday, Forbes said ByteDance had been keeping an eye on a number of Forbes journalists, including some who used to work at BuzzFeed. This was part of a “covert surveillance campaign” to find out who was leaking information. Randall Lane, who is in charge of content at Forbes, said it was “a direct attack on the idea of a free press and the important role it plays in a working democracy.”
In a separate email to employees, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said, “This kind of wrongdoing has nothing to do with what I know our company’s values are.” Reuters saw this email.
He said that the company “will keep improving these access protocols, which have already been made much better and more secure since this project began.”
Chew said that the company had been building TikTok U.S. Data Security (USDS) for the past 15 months to make sure that protected data from TikTok users in the United States stays in the United States.
“We are finishing moving the management of protected US user data to the USDS department and have been shutting down access points,” he wrote.
Related: Sources say that U.S. lawmakers will ban TikTok on all government devices.
ByteDance also said that it was splitting up and reorganising the global investigations function and the Internal Audit and Risk Control department.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is in charge of national security, has been trying for months to reach a national security agreement with ByteDance to protect the data of more than 100 million U.S. TikTok users, but it looks like they won’t be able to do so before the end of the year.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, said this about the event: “ByteDance is trying hard to calm growing worries on both sides of the aisle about how it lets the Chinese Communist Party use and possibly weaponize the information of American citizens.” “TikTok needs to be banned more and more every day.”