TikTok Tracked a Cat’s Account to Spy on a Journalist

A group of ByteDance employees used TikTok to track the IP address of a cat’s account in an attempt to identify the location of its owner, Financial Times journalist Cristina Criddle.

Read more in this article.

Is TikTok a secure and private platform? Learn more here.

How did the surveillance happen?

The company had been trying to discover physical location of the owner of Buffy the cat’s account for some time. ByteDance employees did this on the instructions of their superiors to identify an internal leak of information about the company among journalists.

TikTok spied on user

According to the data provided by ByteDance, several employees of the company in the USA and China gained access to logs, including authorization data to the cat’s account on TikTok, to record the IP addresses of this social network user.

Buffy, a black and white Maine Coon-like cat named after the famous vampire slayer, had 170 subscribers and 20 publications. ByteDance’s employees viewed all the account data.

The reaction of the woman (and the cat) to surveillance

According to Criddle, the tracking information traumatized them both, and this situation forced Buffy to leave the social network. “Buffy … sadly is no longer making content,” explained the cat’s owner.

In December 2022, Criddle received a call from TikTok’s director of public relations and reported that she was one of two journalists who were being monitored by four employees of the company. They had access to the social network’s internal system and tracked the reporters’ location data to find out if they were in the vicinity of ByteDance employees who could be connected to the leak. This plan did not work in the end, and many users and regulators in the United States learned about its implementation.

Criddle said she used the account to post about her cat from her mobile device, but her own name and occupation were not included in the biography in the account description. ByteDance did not explain how long it was tracked.

What is she doing now?

Criddle still writes posts about ByteDance, but now uses her old smartphone exclusively to access the TikTok app and only from the Financial Times office.

TikTok’s danger

“At times I have struggled to sleep thinking about what the ByteDance staff might have found out about me. For a while, I often canceled plans out, and whenever I spoke to or met new sources, I felt on edge,” said Criddle.

ByteDance reaction

The efforts of ByteDance management to track leaks from the company ultimately did not achieve the desired results and only led to problems for the company and TikTok.

As a result of the investigation into the internal incident, ByteDance dismissed all four employees involved in the journalists’ surveillance scheme and reorganized the internal audit team. The management of the company and the heads of departments of these employees were not punished. According to TikTok CEO Shaw Zee Chu, surveillance does not amount to “espionage.”

In March 2023, the US Department of Justice and the FBI launched an investigation into the Chinese company ByteDance because of the surveillance of journalists through TikTok.

Last December, ByteDance conducted an internal investigation and admitted that several of its employees did use TikTok to spy on journalists. Using the app, they received information about the whereabouts of employees of the Financial Times, BuzzFeed, and Forbes. ByteDance stated that according to the results of an internal investigation, these employees were dismissed.

Protect your data with Utopia P2P — an anonymous and decentralized platform.


Leave a Reply

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.