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US probes TikTok Chinese owner for possible spying on reporters

Chris Strohm and Emily Birnbaum, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether the Chinese owner of TikTok has been conducting improper surveillance on American citizens and journalists in particular, as the company deals with significant opposition in its efforts to continue operating the popular video-sharing app in the U.S.

The probe is being conducted by the department’s criminal division and the FBI, according to a person familiar with the development who asked to remain anonymous speaking about an ongoing matter.

Forbes earlier reported that U.S. prosecutors had sent ByteDance a subpoena regarding efforts by its employees to access journalists’ location information or other private user data using TikTok.

ByteDance Ltd., the Chinese company that owns TikTok, said in a statement “we have strongly condemned the actions of the individuals found to have been involved, and they are no longer employed at ByteDance.”


“Our internal investigation is still ongoing, and we will cooperate with any official investigations when brought to us,” the company said.

The revelation comes as the Biden administration told the company to sell its shares of TikTok in the U.S. or risk a ban of the popular app, a major escalation in the long-running standoff over privacy and national security concerns around Chinese control of its data and algorithm.

The demand indicates that the Biden administration has given up on a security review that was intended to blunt potential Chinese influence regarding the app, allowing it to keep operating in the U.S.

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