The FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are looking into ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, for using the app to spy on American journalists.
The Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, has subpoenaed information from ByteDance regarding its employees’ efforts to access the location information and other private user data of US journalists via TikTok.
According to reports, the FBI is also conducting interviews in connection with the surveillance. ByteDance confirmed the internal investigation but did not elaborate. TikTok has yet to respond to comment requests.
ByteDance confirmed that it had conducted an internal investigation into the matter, and “strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved.” However, it remains unclear whether the DOJ subpoena is connected to the FBI’s interviews. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.
The DOJ’s subpoena is the first indication that the U.S. government is looking into ByteDance’s surveillance practices. The FBI and the Department of Justice are members of the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which recently demanded that ByteDance divest from TikTok or face a nationwide app ban.
CFIUS has attempted to negotiate a national security contract with TikTok in order to alleviate concerns that the Chinese government could gain access to sensitive personal information about US citizens or manipulate U.S. civic discourse.
The demand for divestiture represents a significant defeat for TikTok, which promised to spend $1.5 billion on a set of data sequestration plans known as Project Texas in the hopes of allowing ByteDance to retain ownership of TikTok.
TikTok would store U.S. user data in domestic servers managed by a U.S.-based team subject to government oversight under Project Texas. ByteDance’s confirmation of surveillance practices, on the other hand, appears to contradict the promises made to the U.S. government as part of the proposal.
The sources for this piece include an article in Forbes.