TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance planned to use the social media app to monitor the physical location of specific American citizens, according to documents obtained by Forbes.
A team within ByteDance’s “Internal Audit and Risk Control department” reportedly conducts investigations into possible “misconduct” by current and former employees, but in at least two cases, the team had planned on gathering TikTok data about the location of a U.S. citizen who had never worked at the company.
The department is led by Beijing-based executive Song Ye, who reports to ByteDance cofounder and CEO Rubo Liang.
While it remains unclear whether the Beijing-based company was able to collect personal data about these Americans, it is nonetheless clear that the plan was to use location information to surveil individual American citizens, not to send them targeted ads.
The nature and purpose of the planned surveillance was not disclosed in order to protect sources, Forbes said.
The outlet added that both TikTok and ByteDance did not answer questions about whether the department has specifically targeted any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures, or journalists.
Meanwhile, TikTok is reportedly close to signing an accord with the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which assesses national security risks presented foreign companies.
But users of the China-owned social media platform would still risk having personal data exposed to hacking and espionage by China — even if the U.S. government sets up a security agreement designed to prevent the platform from being banned, former national security officials and other experts say.
TikTok, which many consider “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network,” has roughly 1 billion users and is banned in China (in favor of the heavily-censored “Douyin,” also owned by ByteDance). The Chinese app has been under scrutiny by U.S. officials since 2019, when the Trump administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment began reviewing a merger between ByteDance and Musical.ly.