The Justice Department is looking into whether TikTok, a popular app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has been spying on American users. This investigation has been ongoing since late last year, when ByteDance admitted to improperly obtaining the data of several American TikTok users, including two journalists. The Justice Department’s criminal division, the FBI, and the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia are all looking into whether ByteDance has any ties to the Chinese government.
TikTok has grown in popularity as a platform for memes and viral dance challenges, as well as a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ youth. It has, however, become a national security concern. The United States government has been looking into whether China is using the app to spy on Americans, undermine democratic institutions, and foster adolescent internet addiction.
The Biden administration has demanded that ByteDance sell TikTok or face a national ban. TikTok has asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to approve its plans to operate in the country while still owned by ByteDance. President Biden, on the other hand, has indicated that he may support a Congressional effort to outlaw TikTok in the United States.
One of the people whose data was allegedly tracked by ByteDance is a Forbes journalist who broke the story about the federal criminal investigation. By accessing their IP addresses and other data, the now-fired ByteDance employees who allegedly harvested the data were reportedly looking for the sources of suspected leaks of internal conversations and business documents to journalists. ByteDance has said it was making changes to prevent such breaches in the future.
On March 23, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is expected to testify about the company’s data privacy and security practises the impact on young users, and its “relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.”
Finally, the investigation into TikTok’s possible ties to the Chinese government and spying on American users is ongoing. The Biden administration has asked ByteDance to sell the app or face a national ban, while TikTok is requesting permission to operate in the country under ByteDance’s ownership. As the investigation continues, it will be interesting to see what steps are taken to address the national security concerns raised by TikTok.