The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice launched an investigation into TikTok parent company ByteDance late last year over claims that its employees spied on and surveilled American journalists and other associates, Forbes reported Friday.
In December, Beijing-based ByteDance admitted that its employees had collected data on American TikTok users, including Emily Baker-White, a technology reporter with Forbes.
According to Baker-White, employees tracked her location in an attempt to identify her sources.
An anonymous source informed Forbes that the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Fraud Section, and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia had subpoenaed employee information from the TikTok parent company. The FBI has been conducting interviews related to the allegations.
The employees, two of whom were based in China, allegedly collected the journalists' location information and other private user data through the application. According to ByteDance, the employees were terminated.
Jennifer Banks, a spokesperson for ByteDance, told Forbes, "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 Biden administration is currently putting pressure on ByteDance to sell TikTok amid growing national security concerns or risk being banned in the United States. However, it is unclear if the federal government has given the company a deadline.
On Thursday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that federal agencies are probing TikTok's software over national security concerns.
"We've expressed concerns over China's potential use of software platforms that could endanger or threaten America's safety and their national security. So that is the president's concern. That is why we have called on Congress to take action," she stated.
Sources told the New York Post that the technology company has been in talks with potential buyers.
TikTok previously committed to investing $1.5 billion on "Project Texas," a plan to allow a Texas-based software company to implement data supervision between the platform and its ByteDance employees to comply with requests from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to address national security concerns. However, the CFIUS has since rejected TikTok's plan.
TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan told the New York Post that banning the app would not solve those concerns.
"If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn't solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access," Shanahan said.
The DOJ and the FBI declined a request to comment, NBC News reported.
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