TikTok Secretly Collected Critical Users’ Data in Violation of Google Policy

TikTok needs no introduction. This mostly lip-syncing video-sharing social media app has taken the world by storm. In just 4 years of its inception, TikTok managed to cross the huge 2 billion download mark. No other app has ever able to cross a billion download in 4 years, let alone crossing 2 billion downloads. When so many users use any platform, the privacy of those users become a hot topic. Recently an investigative article published on Wallstreet Journal reveals that for almost 15 months, TikTok collected device MAC addresses of Android users without any consent. Moreover, Google’s own policy on the Android app prohibits any Android app from collecting users’ device MAC addresses.

It also reported that TikTok used a very known loophole as a workaround to collect this information. TikTok even had gone the extra mile to use an “unusual” extra layer of encryption to mask that approach. There was no consent taken from the users before collecting this critical information. By 2015 both iOS and Android had updated their app policy to ban the collection of many critical users’ data, including device MAC address.

What is MAC Address

MAC or Media Access Control address is a unique identifier tied to the device Network Interface Card or NIC. This address (a bunch of numbers and characters in a serial) is unique to every device. By collecting MAC addresses, apps/advertising agencies can target ads more precisely. Because the address is unique, it makes tracking users across apps/websites easy. Big companies can also use those data for other purposes like finding the precise location and more. Read more….

The Wallstreet Journal article also revealed that TikTok stopped this practice on November 18 with an app update. The article notes that TikTok stopped collecting data because of the huge political pressures from Washington.

This revelation couldn’t have come at any worst moment for TikTok. TikTok is under fire for its connection with China. You see, TikTok is owned by ByteDance – the world’s most valuable startup with a valuation of whopping $78 Billion. ByteDance is a Chinese startup with headquarters in Bejing, China. This connection of TikTok with Chinese has what causing TikTok so much trouble. Last month India banned TikTok citing privacy concerns, but it is no secret that India took the decision after the clash between the Indian Army and PLA.

TikTok Chinese affiliation

TikTok is on the verge of getting banned in the USA over alleged Chinese spying. The USA alleges that its parent company might ask TikTok to share USA users’ data after pressure from the Chinese government. TikTok has so far denied all these allegations of data sharing and even made a point by distancing itself from its parent company. But none of it helping the company. The US of America is forcing TikTok to sell its US operation to any US company. Last week White House signed an executive order to cut off all the USA transactions with ByteDance beginning September 20th. If TikTok wants to stay alive in the USA, then it has to sell itself off to an American company before the deadline or may get banned if failed to do so. TikTok is currently in talks with Microsoft for a possible sell of its USA operation. It is still not clear if this deal will go through.

When reached for comment, a TikTok representative said that they “constantly update” their app and that the “current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses.

TikTok is caught between the geopolitical clash between China and other countries. Politicians are fighting for brownie points, and TikTok just happens to be there. While TikTok is fighting for its existence, this revelation of it collecting users’ data in violation of Google’s policy is not going to help. This will make it a little harder for TikTok to earn trust again. Anyway, what do you think of this news? Do you think TikTok should be banned? Let’s discuss this in the comment section.