DOJ investigating TikTok parent company for surveilling Americans and tech journalists, report says

The Department of Justice is investigating whether the Chinese parent company of TikTok unlawfully surveilled US users of the popular social media site, including multiple tech journalists, The New York Times reports.

Tech firm ByteDance, based in Beijing, admitted in December that employees had inappropriately obtained US user data, including information related to two journalists, as part of an investigation into leaks to the media.

Federal officials have subpoenaed information from ByteDance regarding the company’s alleged attempts to determine the location of multiple US journalists, Forbes reports.

“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,” a company spokesperson told the magazine.

The Independent has contacted ByteDance for comment.

The Biden administration has reportedly pushed the company to sell its stake in the US version of TikTok, citing national security concerns.

TikTok has more than 100m users in the US.

The company has argued that forced divestment isn’t the right solution.

“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” it said in a statement to Axios. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”

ByteDance has said it will spend $1.5bn on a set of data sequestration plans known as Project Texas, which will see the company house US user data on domestic servers overseen by a US team with government oversight.

States including Texas have announced plans to ban the use of TikTok on government devices, citing “security” risks because of the company’s alleged ties to the Chinese government.

“The security risks associated with the use of TikTok on devices used to conduct the important business of our state must not be underestimated or ignored,” Mr Abbott said in a statement earlier this year.

More than half of US states have partially or fully banned TikTok from government devices, a CNN analysis found.