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The project, assigned to a Beijing-led team, involved accessing geolocation data from some US users' devices without their knowledge or consent.
According to Forbes, the Chinese team ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, planned to use the TikTok app to track the personal location of certain specific US citizens.
The monitoring project team — internal audit and risk control department ByteDance — is led by Beijing-based chief executive Song Ye, who reports to ByteDance co-founder and CEO Rubo Liang.
The team primarily investigates potential misconduct by current and former ByteDance employees. But in at least two cases, the internal audit team also planned to collect TikTok data on the whereabouts of a U.S. citizen who never had an employment relationship with the company, the materials show. It is not clear from the materials, indeed Whether data was collected on these Americans, but the Beijing-based ByteDance team was scheduled to collect location data from users' devices in the US.
TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan said that TikTok collects approximate location information based on IP addresses users, “by helping, among other things, to serve relevant content and ads to users, comply with applicable laws, and detect and prevent fraud and inappropriate behavior.”
But materials reviewed by Forbes indicate that the internal ByteDance audit planned may use this location information for surveillance of individual US citizens, and not for targeted advertising or any other purpose. Forbes does not disclose the nature or purpose of the planned surveillance cited in the materials to protect sources.
TikTok and ByteDance did not respond to questions about whether the Internal Audit Service is specifically targeting any members of the US government, activists, public figures, or journalists.
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