ByteDance, TikTok’s communist Chinese government-tied parent company, used web-tracking pixels to surveil over 3,500 companies, including government agencies, a scathing report found.
Toronto-based company Feroot Security found the “tracking pixels” from ByteDance after reviewing the websites of 3,500 companies. The Chinese Communist Party-tied pixels were uncovered in 30 U.S. state-government sites across 27 states, The Wall Street Journal reported on Mar. 21.
The tracking pixels are used to measure the reach of ads purchased on TikTok, The Journal reported. These pixels, however, could be exploited for surveillance. They “can be watching and recording you when you’re renewing your driver’s license, paying your taxes or filling out doctors’ forms,” Feroot CEO Ivan Tsarynny told The Journal.
Former Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland exclusively told MRC Business of the implications of the Chinese trackers. “They also understand that you want to destroy a society from within and democracies are particularly vulnerable because it’s all based on free choice and free decision-making. So the way they undermine societies from within is, for example, they are feeding you information that destroys your confidence in the advocacy of democracy or destroys your confidence in the candidate you might like [..] and builds up your confidence in the Communist party system, so they’re constantly feeding you propaganda.”
TikTok’s handling of consumers’ data came under scrutiny in recent years after several reports exposed how the CCP has access to personal data.
“With TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew set to testify on Thursday, a famous line from ‘I Love Lucy’ star Desi Arnaz comes to mind when you see a stunning report like this on how a company with communist Chinese government ties has weaseled its way onto American websites,” said MRC Free Speech America & MRC Business Director Michael Morris. “TikTok, ‘you’ve got some splaining to do!’”
Several lawmakers voiced their concerns about these “tracking pixels” on Twitter.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) reacted to the latest report by calling for an immediate TikTok ban. “A new review found that CCP-owned TikTok embedded tracking codes in more than two dozen U.S. state government websites. We must ban TikTok immediately,” Blackburn tweeted.
A new review found that CCP-owned TikTok embedded tracking codes in more than two dozen U.S. state government websites.— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) March 21, 2023
We must ban TikTok immediately.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) responded that he couldn’t wait for an explanation of the potential data exposures. “Can’t wait to hear the explanation for this: ‘TikTok’s pixels “can be watching and recording you when you’re renewing your driver’s license, paying your taxes or filling out doctors’ forms”’ (source:@WSJ),” Hawley tweeted.
Can’t wait to hear the explanation for this: “TikTok’s pixels ‘can be watching and recording you when you’re renewing your driver’s license, paying your taxes or filling out doctors’ forms’” (source: @WSJ)— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 21, 2023
Similarly, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) called for TikTok to be “immediately” banned. “A WSJ report found that 30 U.S. state-government websites are using TikTok’s tracking code, unknowingly participating in a data-collection effort for the China-owned app. This is yet another reason we must ban TikTok immediately,” Toberviller tweeted.
A WSJ report found that 30 U.S. state-government websites are using TikTok’s tracking code, unknowingly participating in a data-collection effort for the China-owned app. This is yet another reason we must ban TikTok immediately.https://t.co/GLgYCI7Cno— Coach Tommy Tuberville (@SenTuberville) March 21, 2023
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is expected to testify on the app’s privacy policies and data security before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Mar. 23.
President Biden ordered federal agencies to remove TikTok from all government-issued devices within 30 days on Feb. 28. Several U.S. states followed suit and banned the communist Chinese-tied app from their state government devices. However, The Journal reported that some U.S. states were “inadvertently participating in a data-collection effort for a foreign-owned company” by allowing the “tracking pixels” on their websites.
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