The US Department of Justice is looking into ByteDance’s TikTok surveillance of American journalists.
According to a source familiar with the situation, authorities are investigating the popular social media platform’s Chinese owner after it admitted to improperly obtaining user data.
In December, ByteDance revealed that user data from the short-form video app was obtained to study the locations of journalists as part of an internal investigation into the information shared with the media.
According to Forbes, which first reported the investigations, the Department of Justice and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia have requested information from ByteDance on how staff used TikTok to find details on American journalists’ locations and other private data.
Cristina Criddle, a UK Financial Times journalist who led a series of stories revealing that dozens of employees had left TikTok’s London office and that some had worked 12-hour days or had been demoted after taking time off, was one of the targets.
ByteDance employees in the United States and China obtained her IP addresses and other personal information in order to determine whether she was in the vicinity of any ByteDance employees, but the company discovered no leaks.
A BuzzFeed reporter was also targeted, as were several users linked to the journalists via their TikTok accounts.
“We have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance,” ByteDance said on Thursday.
“Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official inquiries that are brought to our attention.”
The Department of Justice and the FBI both declined to comment. A request for comment from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia was not immediately returned.
The investigations come as the US government has threatened to ban TikTok on national security grounds unless ByteDance sells its stake.
TikTok has come under fire amid concerns that the data of its American users may be shared with the Chinese government, which the company has denied.
TikTok has been negotiating a national security agreement with the US government for the past two years, but talks have recently stalled.
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