TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which is linked to the government of Communist China, had a plan to use the social media platform to track American citizens’ physical location, according to a report citing leaked documents.
Corporate documents obtained by Forbes showed that in at least two cases, one of ByteDance’s divisions intended to collect TikTok data on the physical location of American citizens.
The tracking plan belonged to ByteDance’s “Internal Audit and Risk Control,” which investigates suspected “misconduct” by current and former TikTok employees.
However, the targeted US citizens were never an employee of the Chinese-owned social media platform, Breitbart News reported.
The “Internal Audit and Risk Control” department is headed by Song Ye, an executive based in Beijing, whose superior is the co-founder and CEO of ByteDance, Rubo Liang.
The leaked records don’t make it clear if TikTok managed to gather personal data on the American citizens it wanted to track.
However, they demonstrate that the Beijing-based company sought to use location data to “surveil individual American citizens” and not to send targeted ads.
Forbes refused to reveal the nature and purpose of TikTok’s planned surveillance to protect its sources.
The magazine reported, though, that neither TikTok nor its parent ByteDance answered its questions on whether they used the social media app’s data collection mechanism to target government officials, activists, public figures, or journalists in the United States.
In a statement provided later to the Insider, TikTok rejected the Forbes report.
“Forbes declined to include our direct statement that disproves the feasibility of its core allegation: the TikTok app does not collect precise GPS location information from US users, meaning TikTok could not monitor US users in the way the article suggested,” a TikTok spokesperson said.
“Furthermore, the company’s Internal Audit team has no role in TikTok product development and would not be able to create such functionality,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, other reports indicate the Chinese-owned social media platform is about to reach a deal with the US Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
The committee evaluates the national security risks for the United States that foreign companies may pose.
However, national security experts have cautioned that even if the US government negotiated a security accord with TikTok, US users would still be exposed to potential personal data theft by “hacking and espionage by China.”
The US Committee on Foreign Investment has scrutinized TikTok since 2019, when the Trump administration started to inspect a merger between its parent, ByteDance and Musical.ly.
TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance planned to use the social media app to monitor the physical location of specific American citizens, according to documents. https://t.co/kKfH2zGYko
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) October 23, 2022