WASHINGTON — The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating TikTok, including over previously revealed allegations that company employees spied on journalists, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter said Friday.
The investigation is being led by prosecutors from the Justice Department in Washington and the Eastern District of Virginia, along with the FBI, the officials said.
The Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment.
In response, a ByteDance spokesperson told NBC: «We have strongly condemned the actions of individuals found to have been involved with and are no longer employed at ByteDance. Our internal investigation is still ongoing and we will cooperate with any official investigation when brought us».
News about the investigation was first reported Thursday by Forbes, which reported that the employees involved in the surveillance were fired after it was confirmed that they were trying to find the sources of the leaks to journalists from within the company. A ByteDance investigation found that the employees gained access to the IP addresses and other data of the reporters and some of their contacts connected to them through their TikTok accounts.
The federal investigation into ByteDance comes as concern over TikTok-related threats to the safety of Americans has intensified this week. The Biden administration has threatened a possible ban on the popular social media app in the US if its Chinese owners refuse to sell their stakes in it, a source close to the company told NBC News on Thursday. That came after US intelligence officials raised concerns that China could use TikTok to spy on Americans or influence US public opinion.
Asked what message the White House is sending to TikTok users in the US, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday: «We have raised concerns about China’s potential use of software that could endanger or threaten the security of the United States and its national security. So that’s the president’s concern. That’s why we’ve called on Congress to take action.»
Jean-Pierre reiterated that a review of the TikTok software is currently underway by a group of federal agencies.