Employees of Chinese technology company ByteDance, the parent company of social media app TikTok, used data from the video app to track journalists, ByteDance admitted on Friday. Employees were attempting to trace the origin of leaks to the media.
Several workers allegedly accessed the data of two journalists writing critically of the company. They were attempting to discover possible links between members of staff and journalists from the Financial Times and Buzzfeed, according to an internal email viewed by French news agency AFP. Workers were unable to find any leaks.
The Financial Times had been investigating breaches of labour conditions at ByteDance before the data of the journalist was accessed.
Dozens of workers had left TikTok’s offices this year due to intolerable working conditions of up to 12 hours per day. Workers were also demoted after taking leave. Staff said that there was a “kill list” of employees the company wanted to force out of its London office. One company executive told London-based staff that he “didn’t believe” in maternity leave.
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ByteDance says that the employees who accessed user data are no longer employed by the company. The company says that the employees' behaviour was “unacceptable” and “seriously violated the company’s Code of Conduct.”
TikTok has long been under scrutiny over privacy and security concerns, especially in relation to Chinese government access. In November, TikTok confirmed that its China-based employees were able to access U.S and European user data, but only through “approval protocols.”