An internal email has divulged that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance was using its viral app to track U.S. and British media journalists.

They included three Forbes reporters who formerly worked for BuzzFeed: Emily Baker-White, Katharine Schwab, Richard Nievam, and Financial Times reporter Cristina Criddle. Baker-White and Criddle have been in charge of a series of stories against TikTok’s conduct.

Following their reports, ByteDance launched an internal probe for potential leaks among its workforce. Four members of its audit team tracked the Forbes employees’ location via their TikTok accounts to see if they had been in close contact with any ByteDance employees. They did not find any leak source.

According to both Forbes and the Financial Times, all four audit staff members who accessed the journalists’ user data have been fired. ByteDance’s chief internal auditor Chris Lepitak has also been fired. In addition, Beijing-based executive Song Ye, to who Lepitak would report, has resigned.

Since the revelation of the data breach, ByteDance has reorganized its internal audit department and restricted access to U.S. data for that division.

ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang has issued an email that reads, as the Times cites, “I was deeply disappointed when I was notified of the situation … and I’m sure you feel the same. The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals. … I believe this situation will serve as a lesson to us all.”

Forbes reported in October that the ByteDance Internal Audit and Risk Control department led by Ye was planning to collect location data from U.S. TikTok users without their consent and acknowledgment. The publication cited materials provided by internal sources.

In August, the Financial Times reported TikTok has been using arbitrary means to oust British staff from its London office. The information came from four members of the company.


In June, Emily Baker-White, then working as a BuzzFeed News Reporter, revealed that workers in China had routinely accessed customer data from the U.S. up until at least January 2022. Baker-White cited audios from over 80 internal TikTok meetings.

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.