According to a shocking report in Forbes magazine, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has reportedly been using the app to monitor specific individuals’ physical locations in the United States.
The project reports to ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department, which is tasked with investigating possible misconduct by current and former employees of the company. It reports directly to ByteDance co-founder and CEO Rubo Liang.
The controversial company periodically conducts audits and investigations of its TikTok and ByteDance employees, looking for violations such as conflicts of interest, misuse of company resources, and disclosure of confidential information.
But according to the investigation published by Forbes, the audit team also planned to collect location data on U.S. citizens who never had a relationship with TikTok or its parent company.
As expected, TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan downplayed the issue and claimed that the app collects users’ location information via their IP, with the purported goal of helping to show them relevant content and ads based on their movements and habits.
However, Forbes claims that according to the materials they reviewed, it is clear that ByteDance’s internal audit team plans to use location information to spy on individual U.S. citizens for other purposes.
In September of this year, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order detailing critical points that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) must consider when evaluating foreign-owned companies.
CFIUS has investigated whether TikTok’s parent company allowed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) access to personal information about U.S. TikTok users.
Another report published on October 25 by Forbes details how the ByteDance team led multiple audits and investigations into TikTok’s former U.S.-based global security director, Roland Cloutier.
Cloutier was allegedly hired to oversee efforts to minimize China-based employees’ access to U.S. user data. TikTok hired him as its Director of Global Security in March 2020, shortly after CFIUS ordered the investigation above into the app and its relationship with the CCP.
The Chinese firm announced hiring Cloutier, a U.S. Air Force veteran, to demonstrate its commitment to cybersecurity concerns and allegations implicating it with the CCP and its spying campaigns.
But according to employees’ accounts accessed by Forbes, Cloutier’s efforts to run a robust cybersecurity team were consistently hampered by ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department operating out of Beijing.
In September, five senior employees left TikTok, arguing that they could not contribute to the company’s critical decision-making. Once again, it clarified that the company is entirely run from Beijing following their particular interests.
“I’ve been in this industry for a long time. I don’t want to be told what to do,” said one of the bosses who decided to leave the company.
TikTok is currently negotiating a kind of national security agreement with CFIUS, which, if approved, will govern how the app must handle the personal data of U.S. users.
TikTok records your behavior even if you are not using the application
The information published by Forbes about TikTok was released just a few weeks after Consumer Reports revealed an investigation into the social network. The report found that TikTok uses specific mechanisms that allow it to track the behavior of its users on the web, their consumption, and interests even when the person is not using the application.
According to the investigation, the platform uses these information theft techniques in all countries where it is active.
The trackers it uses are known as “pixels” and are deposited in millions of web pages and applications to record certain user information, which is then transferred directly to its parent company ByteDance.
This information is used to target ads to potential customers and measure their reach.
Melanie Bosselait, a spokesperson for TikTok, acknowledged that the company uses this mechanism to collect data, which is supposedly “used to improve the effectiveness of advertising services.” However, she also defended herself by claiming that “other platforms” do it the same way.
It is partly true other platforms and social networks, such as Facebook and Google, are accused of using similar mechanisms. As a result, they are being investigated by the U.S. justice system to determine how they collect, store and use their users’ information.
The aggravating factor in the case of TikTok is that if it sends the data collection to its parent company in Beijing, it will likely end up in the hands of the intelligence apparatus of the CCP, whose close ties with ByteDance are well known.
The CCP, amid a fierce trade war with the West and on the verge of a real confrontation with some world powers such as the United States, has shown at home that it has no qualms about using people’s private information to achieve its goals.
Thus, fears that the regime might access the data of Americans and other Western countries are well-founded and need to be urgently addressed.
For all these reasons that prove how the CCP somehow manages to penetrate the West, the social network TikTok has been identified as a “Trojan horse” that the CCP uses to influence Americans through what they see, hear, and ultimately think.