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TikTok has responded to a Forbes magazine story alleging that the social media app’s Chinese parent firm, ByteDance, is using its technology to “track the personal whereabouts of select specified American people.”
Forbes reported on Thursday that it had studied files indicating that ByteDance “intended to exploit the TikTok app” to determine the specific whereabouts of notable US nationals.
According to Forbes, the campaign was directed by Song Ye, a Beijing-based executive who answers directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang.
Song is said to be in charge of the company’s “Internal Audit and Risk Control department,” which is in charge of “conduct[ing] investigations into possible wrongdoing by current and former” ByteDance personnel.
According to Forbes, the department “intended to acquire TikTok data regarding the location of a US resident” who had no past job links to the firm on at least two recent instances.
According to Maureen Shanahan, a TikTok representative, the app records users’ approximate locations based on their IP addresses to “among other things, assist provide relevant content and adverts to users, comply with applicable regulations, and identify and prevent fraud and inauthentic activity.”
TikTok and ByteDance, according to Forbes, will not comment on whether the auditing department utilized data to target American politicians, public figures, journalists, and other activists.
In response, TikTok’s public relations department sent a series of tweets criticizing the Forbes report for its “lack [of] both rigor and journalistic integrity.”
“Specifically, Forbes opted not to publish the piece of our response that contradicted the practicality of its fundamental allegation: TikTok does not collect exact GPS location information from US users, so TikTok could not monitor US users in the way the story stated,” TikTok tweeted.
“TikTok has never been utilized to ‘target’ any members of the US government, activists, public personalities, or journalists, nor do we provide them a different content experience than other users.”
“Our Internal Audit team follows specified procedures and processes to gather the information they need to undertake internal investigations of infractions of the corporate standards of conduct,” the company noted.
“Any suspected exploitation of internal audit resources by Forbes will result in the instant removal of business staff.”
“We are confident in our sourcing, and we stand behind our reporting,” a spokeswoman for Forbes said on Friday.
Meanwhile, Forbes reporter Emily Baker White responded on Twitter with a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal of her own, adding that TikTok had not sought an update to the piece.
Forbes’ executive editor of technology and innovation, John Paczkowski, also commented on Twitter, saying, “TikTok and ByteDance have not rejected any of the charges in the piece.” They are rejecting something that is not stated.”
American authorities and politicians have regularly debated the possible national security ramifications of TikTok’s rapid success in the United States.
Due to potential links between parent firm ByteDance and Beijing’s governing Chinese Communist Party, the Trump administration threatened to ban the app entirely in 2020.
The Biden administration reversed direction, although it did initiate an investigation into the app’s purported national security dangers.
The US government backtracked on its threat to ban TikTok when the app said that it has shifted 100% of its American user traffic to the Oracle Cloud, which has servers in the US.
Brendan Carr, Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, urged in June that Google and Apple remove TikTok from their app stores because the software “harvests swathes of sensitive data that fresh investigations reveal are being accessed in Beijing.”
What do you think of TikTok’s users personal data harvesting? Please let us know in the comments.