The team that was going to track American citizens was ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department, according to a report in Forbes. The person who oversees that department is Beijing-based executive Song Ye, who reports to ByteDance co-founder and CEO Rubo Liang.
The team is supposed to investigate alleged misconduct by current and former employees, but has allegedly in multiple instances “planned to collect TikTok data about the location of a U.S. citizen who had never had an employment relationship with the company,” the report said, citing documents that Forbes viewed.
It’s not clear whether the team collected the location and data of the targeted individuals, the report said, adding that the intended use of the data was to “surveil individual American citizens, not to target ads or any of these other purposes.”
Forbes said that TikTok is reportedly close to signing a contract with the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) after the committee has been investigating the platform to see if the Chinese government is accessing data on American citizens.
President Joe Biden (D) has been far friendlier to TikTok than former President Donald Trump (R), who repeatedly warned about the danger that the platform could pose to Americans.
The story comes after lawyers for the company told U.S. lawmakers that in order for data on U.S. citizens to be accessed, only limited “authorized personnel” would be allowed to under “protocols being developed with the U.S. Government.”
“TikTok appears to remain — despite the claims of its US executives — beholden to its China-based leadership,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) tweeted. “With each new report, there’s further evidence that TikTok’s claimed ‘independence’ is illusory.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Ranking Member on the House Oversight Committee, responded to the story by saying that it was “clear TikTok is just the arm of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“@GOPoversight has pressed for clarification from the social media company on their data sharing practices,” Comer said. “Any failure to cooperate is a serious national security threat. Republicans will hold TikTok accountable.”
New York Times tech reporter Ryan Mac noted separately that it was “kind of telling” that TikTok CEO Shou Chew “rarely does interviews, and when he does it’s never with a journalist and usually with billionaire investors.”
“Multiple stories have come out on the company’s data practices, its surveillance tactics, and its relationship with its Chinese parent and execs who call the shots,” he continued. “The company and its CEO rarely engage with the press on the substance of those stories.”