TikTok Tracked UK Journalist Via Cat Account

TikTok tracked location of Financial Times journalist Cristina Criddle via an account in the name of her cat, as data controversy continues

TikTok and parent company ByteDance spied on a British journalist via an account in the name of her cat.

Financial Times journalist Cristina Criddle told the BBC the experience was “chilling and horrible”.

“I was at my family home with my teenage sister, teenage cousins – and they all use TikTok all of the time. They were like, ‘Whoa, should we be worried?'” she said.

Last December TikTok acknowledged that two of its US employees and two ByteDance staff in China had tracked Criddle and US journalist Emily Baker-White without their knowledge or consent.

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Data access

The actions of the four staff members was unauthorised and they have been fired, the company said at the time.

The employees were looking at location data collected by the TikTok app to see if the two journalists had been in proximity with any TikTok staff as they attempted to identify a leak – an effort that proved unsuccessful.

Criddle told the BBC the account in question was in the name of her cat, Buffy, and that her own name and occupation were not listed in the bio.

The app was set up on her personal phone, meaning her location would have been accessible at all times to ByteDance staff.

Location tracking

The tracking activity took place last summer after Criddle published several articles about TikTok, including an article that claimed dozens of TikTok staff were leaving the London office due to toxic working conditions and because the company had a list of employees it was trying to force out.

White’s report, ironically, had indicated US user data was repeatedly being accessed from China.

Later on, in October, 2022, she reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor the location of specific American citizens.

Criddle said she continues to maintain a TikTok account for work purposes, but the app is now set up on a dummy phone left at her office.

‘Never happens again’

ByteDance said it “deeply regrets” the “significant violation” of its code of conduct and is “committed to ensuring this never happens again”.

The company is facing legal challenges in the US and elsewhere over its collection and use of user data, and has been banned from official devices by the US federal government and a number of states, in addition to the UK parliament and the European Commission.

While the app’s data collection is comparable to that of other smartphone apps, Western countries are concerned that the data could be misused for political purposes by the Beijing-based firm.

TikTok has more than 3.5 billion downloads worldwide.