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TikTok tracks your MAC address: What now?

It could be worse. TikTok likes some gigantic data breaches that expose your account information and private video snippets to the world. But the alternative is not much better, in terms of privacy: a the recent Wall Street Journal report found that the popular social network tracks Android users̵

7; MAC addresses for at least 15 months, eliminating the process only as part of a November update to the app last year.

Did they disclose this to Android users? None; does not in any meaningful way that an ordinary person is at least expected to find—Tiny fonts in an unread privacy policy should not count. In fact, I would bet they did not disclose it at all, as the practice was technically not allowed by the Android operating system at the time. TikTok had to use a solution to make the tracking happen, and it then packed the data along with other identifying features for the parent company ByteDance. Like WSJ’s Kevin Poulsen and Robert McMillan wrote:

TikTok bundled the MAC address with other device data and sent it to ByteDance when the app was first installed and opened on a new device. This bundle also included the device’s advertising ID, a 32-digit number designed to allow advertisers to track consumer behavior while giving the user some measure of anonymity and control over their information. “

If you’ve been TikToking for some time, there are a few steps you can take to solve this problem, but know that the advertising world is messy. The more data that leaks about you, the easier it is for companies to connect all that data together and make it incredibly difficult to ever really separate you from everything they know about you. User profiles are what adtech is all about, and you did not just hear it from me.

On Android, I started resetting your ad ID. Again, this will not make you anonymous, but it is at least something you can do to make it ever so harder for companies to associate your behavior with you and your device. You will usually find the option to reset your advertising ID in Settings> Privacy> Advanced> Ads.

Illustration for the article titled TikTok Tracked Your MAC Address: What Now?

screenshot: David Murphy

While you are here, you may want to consider opting out of ad customization altogether. It does not prevent apps from tracking you in many other ways, but it will at least cut a tool out of their arsenals.

Next, I visit Android Network & Internet settings (Settings> Network & Internet), then tap your wifi connection. Tap the gear icon to the right of the network it’s connected to, tap Advanced, and tap Privacy. Choose the option to use a randomized MAC instead of your device’s MAC, and you’ll also be a little harder to track that way. You’ll have to configure this for each wifi network you connect to, which gets annoying, but it’s an option.

Is that all you can do? Not quite. If you really, really hate tracking, try using other third-party apps to disconnect your phone from various advertising services. Or heck, run all your network traffic through different VPNs for privacy protection to try and limit the qualities that can be attached to you.

However, there is no guarantee that the apps you download will still not be able to retrieve any information about you – especially if they track what you do when you log in and use them.

I would like to offer more ideas, but try to prevent companies from building profiles based on your usage patterns, identifying information, and persistent identifiers seems like a Sisyphean task. I run adblockers in my browsers and funnel all my devices through a Pi-hole server running AdGuard, and even then I feel like a lost cause. That’s the price I pay for looking at pictures of Pomeranians from around the world in an instant, I guess.

All you can do is equip yourself with the best tools and blockers you can get, and know that using another company’s app – especially when it’s free – means you ‘pay’ for it with all the information about you that other companies, mainly advertisers, can use to earn your crap.

But hey, at least TikTok does not scan your clipboard anymore. This is an improvement, right?

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