There has been a lot written about TikTok in recent weeks, including Microsoft's interest in buying some of the company. In the United States, the Trump administration wants to ban the service, accusing it of passing state secrets to the Chinese government. With that in mind, the discovery TikTok has collected Android user data without permission is not a good look.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), TikTok has taken unique identifiers from millions of Android users. This has been specifically banned by Google and was done without the user knowing. The report says this allowed TikTok to secretly track users online.
It is worth noting the report points out Chinese company ByteDance, which owns TikTok, stopped the practice last November.
TikTok was collecting MAC addresses, which are unique identifiers held by devices within the network connector. Because manufacturers install these MAC addresses and rarely change them, they have become sought after by advertisers. With a device MAC address, third parties can send targeted content to devices and gain unique knowledge on a user's online behavior.
TikTok was found to be gathering this information for 15 months and sent it directly to ByteDance. Amazingly, this practice was done the first time the TikTok app was used after installation. It also included the advertising ID from the device. This is a 32-digit number that gives advertisers a way to track users.
Again, this is going to do nothing to help TikTok as it aims to remain in the United States. Donald Trump is actively trying to remove the company from the United States. This is part of his war against Chinese companies who the administration believe are working with the China government.
An executive order stops ByteDance from handling any transactions in the United States. This order will come into effect within the next 45 days and could mean TikTok leaves the market in the country.
As we reported last week, Microsoft has confirmed it has an interest in buying TikTok's operations in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Trump spoke about the matter and Microsoft says discussions are ongoing.
This week, the WSJ said Twitter is also looking at the popular video social network.