27 August 2020
While Microsoft is trying hard to acquire TikTok’s US operations, the app maker is now trapped somewhere else, perhaps due to new wrongdoing. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, TikTok found to have tracked user’s data by mining their MAC addresses until late last year.
The report alleges that the company collected the MAC addresses from Android devices despite a series of rules and protections made in place by Google for the apps going live on its Play Store. The MAC address, which is unique for every device was included in the batch of data that TikTok collected from Android devices. This is the same batch that users usually give their consent to. But TikTok just harvested them without making it transparent to the users.
The report points out that TikTok sidestepped the privacy safeguard in Google’s Android operating system to gather users’ MAC addresses. The app makers were allegedly using an extra layer of unusual encryption to conceal their wrongdoing. It just evaded Google’s policies and did not make users aware that the permissions they are granting or the access they have their consent to include their very important information as well.
A spokesperson for TikTok didn’t deny the substance of the report. It, however, also claims that its current version does not turn to such practices. Yes, such questionable “practices” that the company was relying on until last year. TikTok didn’t reveal why it collected the unique identifiers but as WSJ’s report points out the company might have collected them to target personalized advertisements to its users.
The spokesperson said,
Under the leadership of our Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Roland Cloutier, who has decades of experience in law enforcement and the financial services industry, we are committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the TikTok community. We constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges, and the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses. We have never given any TikTok user data to the Chinese government nor would we do so if asked.
It looks like the app maker is not able to desist itself from some questionable acts. It has once again stepped into the swamp and it may not be easy to get out of this situation anytime soon.
Black clouds are already hovering over ByteDance as the US government has issued executive orders to ban the app completely, though unless it ends up being purchased by an American company. Earlier this month, President Trump ordered to ban the app completely and passed September 15 as a deadline if Microsoft or another party doesn’t close a purchase of the platform by then.