TikTok faces ban in Australia over security risks

Kerem Gülen
Apr 4, 2023

The Australian government has banned the use of TikTok on all government devices due to security concerns, following the lead of the US, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand. The decision was made after receiving advice from intelligence and security agencies, and will be imposed "as soon as practicable", according to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. This move has put Australia in line with its allies from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.

TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app, has come under increasing pressure over claims it presents a security concern. The European Parliament and Norway have also imposed similar restrictions, while NATO has banned its staffers from downloading the app onto NATO-provided devices. Last week, the US government threatened to ban TikTok unless its Chinese owners, Bytedance, agree to spin off their share of the social media platform. The US government is concerned that China could use its national security laws to access the significant amount of personal information that TikTok, like most social media applications, collects from its US users.

As of early 2023, Australia had over 8 million TikTok users aged 18 and over, according to the company, citing a report from DataReportal, which studies digital trends worldwide. TikTok's General Manager in Australia and New Zealand, Lee Hunter, expressed disappointment in the decision and claimed it was driven by politics. He argued that the company had repeatedly tried to engage constructively with the Australian government and that there was no evidence to suggest that the app posed a security risk to the country.

The Attorney-General's Department has issued a notice stating that TikTok poses security and privacy risks due to its "extensive collection of user data and exposure to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law." So far, there is no evidence that the Chinese government has accessed TikTok user data, and no government has enacted a broader ban targeting TikTok on personal devices.

During a high-profile congressional hearing on the matter, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled about the tech firm's alleged ties to the Chinese government. Chew has denied any ties to the Chinese government and has stated that the company would refuse any request for its data. For its part, China's Commerce Ministry has said that it would "firmly oppose" any decision resulting in the forced sale of TikTok, adding that it would "seriously damage" global investors' confidence in the United States.

Australia's attorney general has said that any exemptions to the ban would be granted "on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigation in place." The government had recently received the review into foreign interference through social media applications from the country's Home Affairs Department, with its recommendations being considered, according to Dreyfus.

Australia is not the first country to ban TikTok

TikTok, like many social media platforms, collects a vast amount of user data, which can be a source of concern for governments and individuals alike. As such, it remains to be seen whether other countries will follow in the footsteps of Australia, the US, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand in imposing restrictions on the app. However, with concerns over data privacy and national security continuing to grow, it is likely that TikTok and other social media platforms will face increasing scrutiny from governments around the world.


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