US investigates company that owns TikTok for espionage – 03/17/2023 – World
The US Department of Justice is investigating surveillance of US citizens, including several journalists covering the tech industry, by the Chinese company that owns TikTok. The information is from three sources that are aware of the matter.
The investigation, which began late last year, appears to be linked to the company ByteDance’s acknowledgment in December that its employees had improperly obtained data from American TikTok users, including that of two journalists and some of the people they had been dealing with. they had contact.
According to a source, the Justice Department’s criminal division, the FBI and the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia are investigating ByteDance, which is headquartered in Beijing and has close ties to the Chinese government.
A Justice Department spokesman had no comment.
The confirmation of the investigation comes as the White House tightens its stance on the company, with the aim of forcing ByteDance to address national security concerns regarding TikTok. These include fears that China may be using the popular video app to harvest data on or spy on Americans, subvert democratic institutions and foster social media addiction among young people.
TikTok revealed this week that the Biden administration has asked its owner to sell the app – whose use is already being blocked on government phones in the US, Europe and more than two dozen countries -, under penalty of it possibly being banned in all countries. USA.
The federal criminal inquiry was previously reported by Forbes magazine. The journalist who signed the report said that she is one of the people whose data was tracked by the company.
ByteDance employees involved in the surveillance, who were later fired, were trying to uncover the sources of suspected leaks of internal discussions and company documents to journalists. They were able to access the IP addresses and other data of journalists and people they were connected with through their TikTok accounts.
Two of the employees were residents of China. The company said it was making changes to prevent such breaches in the future, but its assurances have failed to quell growing demands from politicians from both major US parties that the app be blocked or banned. President Joe Biden has said he can support an effort, now moving through Congress, to ban the app in the United States.
This represents a dramatic shift from last year, when some in management expressed confidence that a deal could be struck that would allow the company to continue operations in exchange for major changes to its governance and data security.
TikTok was hoping that a group of federal agencies known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) would approve its plans to operate in the country while remaining under ByteDance’s ownership.
But Assistant US Attorney General Lisa Monaco did not approve a 90-page interim deal, and the Treasury Department, which plays a crucial role in approving deals that pose national security risks, expressed skepticism about the chances of a potential pact resolve such issues, sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The White House now appears to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction. Senior officials are increasingly seeing a replacement of company ownership as the only acceptable option.
Officials at TikTok, which has a robust lobbying and public relations operation in Washington, said it was weighing its options and expressed disappointment at pressure to sell the company.
The company said its security proposal, which involves storing US users’ data in the United States, would offer users the best possible protection.
“If protecting national security is the goal, transferring the app to other hands would not resolve the issue. A change of ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” said TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan. , in a press release this week.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is due to testify next week before the US Congressional Energy and Commerce Commission. He is expected to be asked about the app’s ties to China, in addition to concerns that it will transmit harmful content to young people.
A TikTok spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment and referred all questions to ByteDance.
A ByteDance spokeswoman did not respond. But she had told Forbes that the company “strongly condemns the actions of the individuals involved” and “will cooperate with any official investigations brought to our attention.”
Translated by Clara Allain