Senator calls on Google to ban TikTok for allegedly tracking user data

TikTok sidestepped a privacy safeguard in Android, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

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Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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2 min read

TikTok is once again under fire.

James Martin/CNET

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, is calling on Google to remove TikTok from its platform after the social video app allegedly tracked user data by sidestepping a privacy safeguard in Android, according to a Tuesday report by The Wall Street Journal. TikTok collected "unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices, data that allows the app to track users online without allowing them to opt out," the report says. 

Those identifiers gathered by the company are called MAC addresses, and they're typically used for advertising, the Journal notes. This latest speculation against TikTok comes after President Donald Trump issued an executive order last week that would effectively ban the app in the US next month.

"The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People's Republic of China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," the executive order reads. "At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok."

Sen. Hawley took to Twitter to write: "So @tiktok_us violated @Google policies and essentially hacked Android phones in order to track users without their permission. @Google, ban TikTok from your platform and app store. Don't wait."

The tactic was reportedly hidden using an additional layer of encryption, and was done without the knowledge of TikTok users. The company reportedly ended the practice in November.

"We are committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the TikTok community," a TikTok representative said. "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 US user data to the Chinese government nor would we do so if asked. We always encourage our users to download the most current version of TikTok."

A Google representative said the company is investigating the claims.