TikTok’s Chinese Parent Company Planned To Use App To Track Locations Of Specific Americans
According to a bombshell report from Forbes, China owned TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, reportedly planned to use the platform to track the location of specific American citizens.
Led by the company’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department under direction from executive Song Ye and co-founder and CEO Rubo Liang, targeted Americans would have their location and data tracked.
The team primarily conducts investigations into potential misconduct by current and former ByteDance employees. But in at least two cases, the Internal Audit team also planned to collect TikTok data about the location of a U.S. citizen who had never had an employment relationship with the company, the materials show.
It is unclear from the materials whether data about these Americans was actually collected; however, the plan was for a Beijing-based ByteDance team to obtain location data from U.S. users’ devices.
TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said that TikTok collects approximate location information based on users’ IP addresses to “among other things, help show relevant content and ads to users, comply with applicable laws, and detect and prevent fraud and inauthentic behavior.”
TikTok has responded to the report from Forbes, saying that they “disproved” its claims. And that the company does not collect the GPS locations of American users.
“Forbes’ reporting about TikTok continues to lack both rigor and journalistic integrity,” the company claimed in a statement.
2/ Specifically, Forbes chose not to include the portion of our statement that disproved the feasibility of its core allegation: TikTok does not collect precise GPS location information from US users, meaning TikTok could not monitor US users in the way the article suggested.
— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) October 20, 2022
“TikTok has never been used to ‘target’ any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists, nor do we serve them a different content experience than other users,” the company claimed.
“Our Internal Audit team follows set policies and processes to acquire information they need to conduct internal investigations of violations of the company codes of conduct, as is standard in companies across our industry,” it added.
TikTok has been increasingly controversial over the past year. With new stories emerging showcasing the censorship efforts by the Chinese company when it comes to American usage.
For example, TikTok recently prohibited users from searching the term “white lives matter.” The video hosting service did so on the grounds that the term is connected to “hateful behavior.”
The tech company also announced back in August that it is adding policies and enforcing new measures to combat “misleading narratives” just ahead of the 2022 election.
TikTok, for instance, plans to label content on “election-related pages” in an effort to combat “election misinformation.”
Also in August, members of congress warned about security risks from Chinese-owned TikTok in a memo that read:
The ‘TikTok’ mobile application has been deemed by the CAO Office of CyberSecurity to be a high-risk to users due to its lack of transparency in how it protects customer data, its requirement of excessive permissions, and the potential security risks involved with its use.
Additionally, we believe the user base should be aware that this application is known to store users’ Data Location, Photos, and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in servers located in China and potentially mined for commercial and private purposes.
Per the memo, many of these security warnings stem from the app’s ability to collect information “in the background” from devices it is installed on. Even when TikTok is not being used.
This gathered information includes location data, IP address, metadata from uploads, and cookies, in addition to plenty of others. Perhaps most shockingly, even the user’s keystroke patterns and rhythms.
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