TikTok said that it does not gather accurate GPS location information from users in the United States, implying that it cannot be used to track individuals “in the manner [Forbes] described.” In reaction to a Forbes report suggesting that a China-based team from the app’s parent firm, ByteDance, intended to use the app to monitor “the personal whereabouts of certain specified American people,” the app’s communications team tweeted. It’s unclear if the information on those people was really gathered.
According to Forbes, the monitoring project’s personnel is part of ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department. Typically, the division is in charge of investigating possible misbehavior by present and former firm personnel. However, the article said that the organization planned to utilize TikTok to gather data on the whereabouts of a US citizen who had never worked for the firm in at least two situations.
TikTok has responded to Forbes’ charges, accusing the magazine of missing the section of its statement in which it said that it does not gather exact GPS positions. That section “disproved the viability of [the piece’s] primary assertion,” according to the explanation. TikTok also said that it has never been used to target members of the US government, public figures, activists, or journalists and that it does not provide them with material that differs from that of other users. According to Forbes, TikTok “did not respond to queries” regarding whether the internal audit team at ByteDance targeted members of such groups.
According to Forbes, TikTok previously made guarantees to US officials and politicians in an attempt to allay their fears that China might use the app against US individuals. TikTok said in June that it has “moved the default storage location of US user data” to “Oracle cloud servers based in the United States.” The news came just as BuzzFeed News released a piece regarding ByteDance personnel in China routinely accessing nonpublic data on TikTok users in the United States. That story was based on hours of internal discussions released to the press.
A few weeks later, TikTok disclosed its strategies for ensuring the security of US customers’ data in a letter to legislators. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew promised to “remove US consumers’ protected data from [its] own systems and completely pivot to Oracle cloud servers situated in the US.” According to an Oracle spokeswoman, although TikTok is now utilizing its cloud services, Oracle has no knowledge of what it is doing and the service has complete control over all of its data.