China-owned TikTok denies it could use location information to track U.S. users


TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, is used by over 1 billion people worldwide every month.

Artur Widak | Nurphoto | Getty Images

TikTok on Friday denied that it used specific location data to track certain U.S. individuals, pushing back against a Forbes report that alleged the Chinese-owned video app was planning on carrying out such monitoring.

On Thursday, Forbes published an article alleging TikTok, which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, planned to use its app “to monitor the personal location of some specific American citizens,” citing materials viewed by the publication.

Other allegations include:

  • The monitoring is carried out by TikTok parent ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department whose leader reports directly to the CEO.
  • The department primarily conducts investigations into misconduct by employees but it also planned on an occasion to collect location data about a U.S. citizen who never worked at the company.

The Forbes article also said that its unclear whether any data was actually collected.

TikTok hit back at the article in a series of tweets claiming it lacks “both rigor and journalistic integrity.”

TikTok said Forbes “chose not to include the portion of our statement that disproved the feasibility of its core allegation: TikTok does not collect precise GPS location information from US users, meaning TikTok could not monitor US users in the way the article suggested.”

TikTok added that its app has never been used to “target” any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists.

A Forbes spokesperson said: “We are confident in our sourcing, and we stand by our reporting.”

John Paczkowski, executive editor of technology and innovation at Forbes, said on Friday that TikTok and ByteDance “have not denied any of the claims in the story.”

TikTok has had a testing couple of years in the U.S. ever since former President Donald Trump ordered the app to divest its U.S. business claiming it threatened national security. Washington has been concerned that data collected on U.S. citizens by TikTok could get into the hands of the Chinese government.

In July, TiKTok CEO Shou Zi Chew admitted that “employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok U.S. user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our U.S.-based security team.”

But the company said at the time it was undertaking a major initiative called Project Texas, which is intended to “fully safeguard user data and U.S. national security interests.” This includes storing all U.S. data by default in Oracle’s cloud.

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