TikTok collected device-specific addresses of users’ smartphones via its Android app for at least 15 months, using a technique that Google had banned from its app store, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
TikTok tracked the MAC (media access control) addresses — unique identifiers assigned to a network interface — of users’ Android phones, possibly for advertising purposes, per the Journal story. TikTok stopped the practice in November 2019. The popular video-sharing app is facing a potential ban in the U.S. over national-security concerns, given its ownership by Chinese internet giant ByteDance.
In a statement, a TikTok 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 U.S. user data to the Chinese government nor would we do so if asked.”
The TikTok rep added, “We always encourage our users to download the most current version of TikTok.”
TikTok announced the hiring of Cloutier, formerly chief security officer at ADP, in March 2020.
In response to the WSJ story, a Google rep said, “We’re investigating these claims.”
The news about TikTok’s surreptitiously device tracking comes as parent company ByteDance is being forced by the Trump administration to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations to an American buyer — or face a ban. President Trump last week issued an executive order that would outlaw business dealings with TikTok in the U.S. by Sept. 21 if TikTok’s U.S.-based business isn’t sold by then. The president invoked national security concerns for the ban, noting that Chinese authorities could demand ByteDance fork over any TikTok user data.
Microsoft said it was in talks about a TikTok acquisition and Twitter reportedly has held preliminary talks about a possible merger with TikTok.