TikTok secretly collected user data for 18 months by using a means prohibited by Google
ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, has for some time been under pressure from the White House, which fears that the application is really just a tool for the Chinese government to use to track US government employees or subcontractors. While tensions are so high, a discovery has just been made that could probably seal TikTok's fate and confirm the Americans' suspicions.
A Wall Street Journal investigation, published last Tuesday, revealed that TikTok used a tactic forbidden by Google to circumvent a privacy protection in the Android operating system and collected unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices. Security experts claim that the vulnerability exploited by TikTok was concealed by an unusual additional layer of encryption. The identifiers collected by TikTok, known as MAC addresses, would have served as a unique identifier for each user's device, making them useful for both advertising and potentially more invasive forms of tracking.
The data collected also allowed the application to track users online without allowing them to unsubscribe. The revelations made by this investigation undermine TikTok's defence argument that, until now, the system does not collect more data than a standard mobile application. According to the investigation, TikTok had been collecting this data for 18 months, and it was only in November last year, due to pressure from Washington, that TikTok stopped this practice.
In the face of all this, the White House has expressed concern that the data collected by TikTok could end up in the hands of the Chinese government and that the Chinese government could use it for blackmail or espionage. For its part, TikTok has tried to reassure its users that the current version of TikTok does not collect data. According to a company spokesperson:
"We are constantly updating our application to keep up with changing security challenges, and the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses. We always encourage our users to download the latest version of TikTok,"