Thursday, July 25

TikTok Spied on British Journalist Through Her Pet Account to Find Whistleblower

Bytedance, the Chinese company behind the hugely popular app TikTok, has admitted that four employees accessed the private data of a British journalist’s cat from a TikTok account. They did that to track down some TikTok employees who spoke to the press. The journalist says she is shocked.

Just before Christmas, Cristina Criddle, a British journalist who writes for The Financial Times, suddenly received a call from someone from TikTok. The account dedicated to her cat Buffy has been closely monitored since the summer by two American and two Chinese employees of Bytedance, the Chinese company behind the widespread video app. Criddle shared the story with Britain’s public broadcaster BBC this weekend.

As a technology reporter for The Financial Times, Criddle has often written critical messages about TikTok and malpractices regarding privacy and corporate culture. Before that, she also regularly spoke to anonymous sources within the company. According to Criddle, TikTok struggled to find the identities of employees who talked to the press.

The company was eventually able to find out that Criddle used a TikTok account for her cat Buffy. Unfortunately, there was nothing professional on it, just about twenty videos of her black and white pet. Nevertheless, the cat caught the interest of some staff members.

By repeatedly checking the IP address of the account, Bytedance was able to find out the location of the journalist’s phone. The company then checked that information against the IP addresses of its employees. That way, it could figure out which people came close to Criddle and thus possibly spoke to her.

Criddle told the BBC that he was disgusted by Bytedance’s practices. “My teenage sister and teenage nieces all use TikTok. They all wonder if they should worry now.” Bytedance has always denied that it violates the privacy of TikTok users. In this case, the company talks about an unfortunate incident and apologizes to Criddle. It says some employees abused their authority.

In recent months, TikTok has been in the news several times with privacy law violations. First, employees of the European Commission were obliged to remove the app for fear of espionage. Then, European councillors, parliament members, and even federal and Flemish civil servants from our country followed later.

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