The Justice Department is Investigating TikTok Over Journalist Spying Incident — The Biden administration has recently increased pressure on TikTok over national security concerns related to the company’s ties to China, and it appears that the Justice Department and FBI are also putting pressure.
Forbes was the first to reveal that regulators are actively investigating ByteDance, the parent firm of TikTok. The investigation apparently began after some employees used the app to spy on U.S.-based journalists, a claim that was confirmed by an internal review conducted late last year.
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Now, The New York Times and other media sites have confirmed that the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice is cooperating with the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia to investigate the violation of user privacy.
ByteDance’s internal investigation revealed that certain workers visited the TikTok accounts of US journalists in order to determine who within the company was leaking material to the press. Two of the employees involved in the incident who were terminated after the fact were part of the company’s China operations.
The most recent disclosures come a week before TikTok’s CEO is slated to testify before Congress — an appearance that, even by tech hearing norms, is likely to be viewed with grave suspicion. In the days preceding the hearing, the Biden administration has significantly hardened its stance on the company, threatening to ban the app in the United States if TikTok’s Chinese owners do not sell the company.
TikTok rejected the White House’s fresh demand for divestiture, stating that selling the company would not solve the government’s problems. TikTok instead pointed to its own proposed remedy, however it is difficult to convince the U.S. government that a China-based corporation operating in the U.S. should be permitted to self-regulate.
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To mitigate concerns about the app’s relationship with China, TikTok launched a $1.5 billion initiative known as “Project Texas” that would store U.S. user data domestically and subject the company to an auditing process conducted by American tech giant Oracle.