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TikTok exposed for collecting unique device data from Android users for nearly 15 months

Probably not the best time to be exposed for this, all things considered.

tiktok on iphone 11
Image: KnowTechie

TikTok is front-and-center in the news right now, with President Trump stating the social app will be banned in approximately 35 days unless a US buyer steps up. Trump and company cite security concerns with the app and its possible attachment to the Chinese Communist Party.

Now, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, TikTok was using some deceptive practices back in 2018 that was collecting data from Android users, in direct conflict with the Google Play Store’s guidelines.

For approximately 15 months, and ending in November 2019, TikTok was storing users’ MAC addresses. The social platform did not ask for permission for this and it directly goes against the Play Store’s policies. Specifically, this part:

The advertising identifier may not be connected to persistent device Identifiers (for example: SSAID, MAC address, IMEI, etc.) for any advertising purpose. The advertising identifier may only be connected to personally-identifiable information with the explicit consent of the user.

MAC addresses, unlike other types of identifiers, can not be changed. It is directly tied to your device. The report also notes that TikTok hid this fact, by using an additional layer of encryption to mask the deceptive practice.

So, what was TikTok using this data for? Most likely ad targeting. Because MAC addresses cannot be changed, advertisers would be able to get reliable information at all times about which ads might have the best success with an individual user.

TikTok has now issued a statement regarding the tracking, telling The Verge, “We constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges, and the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses. We always encourage our users to download the most current version of TikTok.”

What do you think? Surprised by the revelation? Should TikTok be banned in the US? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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