TikTok has been accused of using the unique MAC addresses of Android users to track them down in a clear violation of Google’s policies

TikTok, the short-form video app, soared to the heights of recognition all over the world amidst the coronavirus pandemic. While things were going great for the app and its parent company, ByteDance, it all started getting bad when some allegations came up.

The US government is especially after the app for a while, and there was a class-action lawsuit against the company as well. TikTok was accused of using invasive methods to collects users’ data and the US government was claiming that this users’ data of the US citizens could be misused or inappropriately accessed by the Chinese government.

Donald Trump is all set to impose a ban on the app, and amidst all this chaos, another blow has been served to TikTok. The Wall Street Journal has reported that TikTok has been collecting users’ information from their Android smartphones, without their consent, through logging into users’ MAC addresses! According to analysis, TikTok was able to track down these MAC addresses by exploiting a bug and hiding its tracks with an atypical extra layer of encryption.

MAC addresses are unique digital identifiers that every smartphone has. It cannot be reset or changed, so every smartphone is unique in this way. Back in 2015, Google banned the apps from using or tracking these MAC addresses so that the public’s privacy is not violated. Apple also stopped tracking the MAC addresses two years ago. But now TikTok’s parent ByteDance is accused of tracking people through these unique identifiers even if the user tightens their privacy settings to block out some ad-tracking practices.

As per Sensor Tower’s analysis, the estimated total installs of the app from the Google Play Store in the US are around 89 million. According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, TikTok tracked the MAC addresses for almost 15 months and then launched the current updated version of the app.

A spokesperson from TikTok has refuted the claims by saying that the company takes the matter of public security and users' information very seriously, and with the latest updates, the company stopped tracking the MAC addresses since November 2019. The current version of TikTok does not collect these addresses.

TikTok also negates all the claims of the Chinese government spying through these users’ data by saying that they do not give any information to the Chinese government. Even the CIA has been able to verify that the Chinese government never accessed any data from US citizens through TikTok.

Google is currently investigating this matter, and ByteDance is also ready to fight this battle in the courts.

Read next: TikTok Announces First Disbursement from Newly Minted “Creator’s Fund”
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