TikTok said it does not collect precise GPS location information from users in the US, which means it cannot be used to monitor people “in the way [Forbes] suggested.” The app’s communications team has tweeted that in response to a Forbes article claiming that a China-based team from its parent company, ByteDance, had planned to use the app to track “the personal location of some specific American citizens.” It’s unclear if information about those individuals had actually been collected.
Forbes reported that the team behind the monitoring project is part of ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department. The division is typically in charge of looking into potential misconduct by current and former company employees. But the publication said that the group intended to use TikTok to collect data about the location of a US citizen that had never been employed by the company in at least two cases.
TikTok has fired back against the publication’s allegations, accusing Forbes of omitting the part of its statement where it said that it doesn’t collect precise GPS location. That portion “disproved the feasibility of [the piece’s] core allegation,” it explained. In addition, TikTok stressed that it has never been used to target members of the US government, public figures, activists and journalists and that it doesn’t serve them content different from other users. In its report, Forbes wrote that TikTok “did not answer questions” about whether the internal audit team at ByteDance targeted members of those groups.
2/ Specifically, 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.
— TikTokComms (@TikTokComms) October 20, 2022
As Forbes notes, TikTok previously made promises to American authorities and lawmakers in an effort to assuage their concerns that China could use the app against US citizens. In June, TikTok announced that it “changed the default storage location of US user data” to “Oracle cloud servers located in the US.” The service made the announcement just as BuzzFeed News published a report about China-based ByteDance employees repeatedly accessing nonpublic data on TikTok users in the US. That report was based on hours of internal meetings that were leaked to the publication.
A couple of weeks later, TikTok detailed its plans on how to ensure the security of US users’ data in a letter sent to to lawmakers. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew assured them that the company will “delete US users’ protected data from [its] own systems and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US.” Forbes talked to an Oracle spokesperson who said that while TikTok is currently using its cloud services, Oracle has no insight on what it’s doing and that the service still has full control of all its information.