A recent report from the Wall Street Journal claims that web-tracking code from TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been discovered on 30 state government websites across 27 U.S. states.
The Wall Street Journal reports that according to the cybersecurity company Feroot Security, web-tracking code created by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been discovered on 30 U.S. state government websites spread across 27 states. The code, known as tracking pixels, raises concerns about the app’s ties to the Chinese government by indicating that U.S. state governments are taking part in a data collection effort for a foreign-owned company.
These tracking pixels can also be used to gather usernames, addresses, and other sensitive data from users, although they are typically used to increase the effectiveness of digital advertising.
The results highlight the challenges U.S. regulators face in limiting the popular Chinese-owned app’s data collection efforts. Lawmakers from both parties have warned that the app could be dangerous to U.S. national security and American citizens’ privacy, despite TikTok’s emphasis that its user data is stored in the U.S., not China. Lawmakers are discussing a nationwide ban, but removing the app from U.S. smartphones wouldn’t stop all data-tracking operations, as the tracking pixels show.
Beyond TikTok, Feroot Security discovered tracking pixels on some state-government websites from Chinese-owned Tencent, which runs WeChat, Weibo Corp., and Alibaba, as well as Russian-owned Kaspersky, a cybersecurity firm whose products were previously banned from federal civilian and military U.S. networks under the Trump administration over concerns about espionage.
The Feroot report claims that pixels found on numerous popular corporate and governmental websites frequently transfer data to foreign countries, including China. The report stated that about five percent of the tracking pixels on the websites Feroot examined were programmed by foreign firms. Officials claim that the data flow to U.S. adversaries threatens American privacy, particularly in nations with authoritarian governments that can demand access to large amounts of private companies’ data.
According to Alan Butler, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the information can be used to identify people, track them physically and digitally, and expose them to common cybersecurity threats like phishing attempts and misinformation.
“Any social media platform, data broker, or ad service that is using tracking pixels to monitor people’s browsing across the web is violating the privacy of users visiting those websites,” Mr. Butler said. “This is especially troubling on government websites where individuals are being tracked even as they try to access information and services that are essential.”
Breitbart News previously reported that the FBI and DOJ are investigating ByteDance after the company acknowledged firing four employees for using the app to track the whereabouts of two journalists in the United States. The information is released at a time when ByteDance is under increased pressure to sell its stake in TikTok because failure to do so could result in the popular video app being banned in the U.S.
Breitbart News recently reported that TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has come under pressure from the U.S. government to sell its shares in the popular video-sharing app or face a ban in the country. This development is a significant policy shift by the Biden administration and has sparked a new round of debate. Many have accused the Biden administration of not taking the alleged security threat posed by the China-based company seriously enough, especially after the Chinese company hired a Biden-connected consulting firm.
Read more at the Wall Street Journal here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan