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TikTok was found to be bypassing Android's built-in protections and sneakily tracking users

TikTok
TikTok (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • TikTok's reputation on privacy is about to take another blow.
  • A new report reveals that the app was tracking users' MAC addresses up to November of last year, possibly in violation of Google's policies.
  • Privacy and national security concerns surrounding the app have prompted the Trump administration to issue an executive order banning the app in the U.S. by next month.

TikTok was allegedly tracking Android users via their MAC addresses, a new Wall Street Journal report reveals. While concerning on its own, the report also indicates that TikTok may have done so using a hidden layer of encryption and in violation of Google's app policies.

The tracking was ended in September of last year, the report notes.

The news is likely to give the Trump administration further ammunition in its crusade against TikTok — and other Chinese IT products — which it plans to ban within the U.S. if it has not been sold to a U.S. company by September 15. Both Microsoft and Twitter are said to be vying for control of the upstart social media platform.

The development may also cut TikTok owner ByteDance's upcoming lawsuit against the U.S. government at its knees, in which the company plans to argue that the privacy and national security concerns cited by the Trump administration as the basis for its planned ban on the app are baseless. Stealthily tracking users without their knowledge doesn't really bode well with that narrative, now does it?

A spokesperson for Tiktok noted that the company was "committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the TikTok community. Like our peers, we constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges." The statement also confirmed that "the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses."

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3 Comments
  • This is what so many people don't understand. Sometimes it takes a year or more to discover these things, even for highly scrutinized services and companies. Who knows what other shenanigans are going on with TikTok et al. that we won't discover until months or years from now? Their track record does not inspire trust or confidence.
  • I'm against banning Tik Tok on the national level because that would require national censorship of the internet. Let them block Tik Tok and they can block whatever else they want and control the web just like China or North Korea. However if Apple and Google want to ban them from the app stores I'm perfectly ok with that, they're private business and it seems Tik Tok broke Googles rules.
  • Yes! Overall I agree that something is fishy, and as a non-user I don't have a lot of stake in it, but I do have concerns over HOW it's done. Censoring the internet with the "Great Wall of the USA" (Cyber Border Wall??) is a very slippery slope and requires extensive monitoring at so many levels - which if they're even capable of with Gov't run hardware currently could be a big enough surprise for everyone. Simply having Apple and Google remove them from the app stores seems much more reasonable. Yes users can side-load but at this point I think everyone knows, and that is technical enough to do so, that you're rolling the dice when you do that and take full responsibility. EDIT - (https://www.androidcentral.com/white-house-document-confirms-tiktok-coul...) Well that kinda sums it up. Good.