TikTok tracked Android user data by using technique banned by Google

Ruben Fields
August 12, 2020

The spokesperson added: "We constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges, and the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses".

According to the Google Play Developer Policy Center, an app's advertising identifier "must not be connected to personally-identifiable information or associated with any persistent device identifier" - like a MAC address - "without explicit consent of the user".

ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, insists they've never gathered more data on users than their bigger rivals Facebook and Google did.

And while no popular social app platform has its hands clean when it comes to user tracking and profiling for ad targeting, TikTok being owned by China's ByteDance means its flavor of surveillance capitalism has earned it unwelcome attention from the U.S. president - who has threatened to ban the app unless it sells its USA business to a United States company within a matter of weeks.

"The ICO's recent work on adtech has highlighted significant concerns about transparency, profiling and information security where personal data is collected and used for the purposes of online behavioural advertising".

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The US government is able to point to China's Internet security law which requires firms to provide the Chinese Communist Party with access to user data - hence TikTok's emphatic denial of passing data. A statement from the company issued to Engadget said "the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses". TikTok stopped the practice in November 2019.

Trump initially announced he would ban TikTok's Chinese umbrella company from operating in the USA over fears that private data could be harvested through the app at Beijing's behest, something that China outright denied.

TikTok, which recently claimed it collects less personal data than Facebook or Google, allegedly stockpiled MAC addresses for at least 15 months, ending in November 2019, when parent company ByteDance Ltd. came under scrutiny by the U.S. government.

Back in 2013, Apple safeguarded its phones' MAC addresses and Google did the same with Android phones in 2015. In response to the WSJ story, a Google rep said, "We're investigating these claims".

Google did not respond to requests for comment.

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