DOJ Investigating TikTok’s Chinese Parent Company for Alleged Spying on U.S. Journalists

The Justice Department is reportedly investigating ByteDance, the Chinese-based company that owns TikTok, over allegations that it has been spying on American citizens, including several tech journalists.

The DOJ’s criminal division, the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia opened the investigation late last year after ByteDance acknowledged that it had inappropriately obtained the data of U.S. TikTok users, including two reporters, Forbes reported. 

Emily Baker-White, a Forbes journalist who said ByteDance used her TikTok account to track her location in an effort to find her sources, reported Thursday that the FBI and DOJ are investigating the situation.

ByteDance admitted to the surveillance after an internal investigation, which led to the firing of Chris Lepitak, the employee who oversaw the team responsible for the surveillance. 

The news comes as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) ordered the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell their stake in the company or face a potential U.S. ban. Sixty-percent of ByteDance is owned by international investors, 20 percent is owned by employees and 20 percent is owned by its founders who carry disproportionate voting rights.

CFIUS issued its ultimatum last week, but TikTok has been dismissive of the idea of divestment as a means to address user privacy and data sharing concerns.

“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,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

“The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing,” she added.

To address concerns about TikTok’s collection of user information, including biometric location data for more than 100 million users in America alone, TikTok has launched Project Texas, an initiative to store all American data in the United States.

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