Why TikTok app could be banned in Australia


The Australian Government is facing calls to ban TikTok amid growing national security concerns over the popular Chinese-owned social media platform.

The video app - used by more than 1.6 million Australians including Premier Daniel Andrews - "hoovers up" the data of its users, storing it on servers accessible to China.

A federal MP told the Herald Sun the app's fun appearance meant it had gone largely unscrutinised in Australia and had not been taken as seriously as other Chinese Communist Party efforts to mine information.

"It might be dressed differently but it's the same beast," the MP said.

Plans are underway to haul TikTok before the Foreign Interference through Social Media senate inquiry.

Committee chair Senator Jenny McAllister said it would be in the company's interest to comply with their request.

"I think Australians will expect to hear from them," she said.

"Part of the job of this Committee is to get all of those stakeholders in the room and create a forum where we can have a really good discussion about what are the boundaries, about what is and isn't acceptable on these types of matters."

Censorship of anti-China opinions, mass surveillance of users and propaganda was rife on the platform, according to Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Fergus Ryan.

He said that unlike other major social media platforms like Facebook, the information harvested by TikTok was accessible to Beijing.

"There's no question that the Chinese Communist Party has a hold," he said.

"They even have Communist Party cells inside the company."

Some MPs want the Federal Government to follow India's lead and consider banning the app - widely considered to be China's most successful export to date.

Earlier this year the Australian Defence Force joined the US military and navy in banning TikTok on any defence-issued device.


Dan Andrews on uses the app.
Dan Andrews on uses the app.

TikTok posed a bigger threat to the national security of Australia than Chinese-owned instant messaging service WeChat, according to one federal MP.

They said the widespread use within the broader community following the COVID lockdown now posed a massive challenge to the Federal Government that would need to be dealt with.

The Morrison Government last week dedicated $1.35 billion of its $270 billion defence cash splash to national cybersecurity capabilities following ongoing cyber attacks from a sophisticated foreign actor widely understood to be China.

Foreign Interference committee member Kimberley Kitching said Australians needed to understand the access China had to their personal information when using the platform.

"Given that there is credible evidence to suggest that TikTok users' data has been sent back to servers in China where it can then be analysed and used by authorities to identify and build profiles to track users, it would be entirely appropriate for senior representatives from that company to appear before the committee to answer questions on this,' the Labor Senator said.

A TikTok Australia spokeswoman said work was being done to reduce the ability for employees in China to access overseas users' data.

"TikTok takes user data security seriously and has steadily worked to increase controls on access," the TikTok spokeswoman said.

"In April, our CISO outlined efforts to minimise data access across regions so that, for example, employees in other parts of the APAC region, including China, would have very minimal access to user data."

APSI's Mr Ryan said he would be "very worried" if Premier Andrews had the app installed on his phone.

A spokeswoman for the Premier said he had "no concerns" about the app but refused to say if it was on the leader's phone.

"We see TikTok as a way of making the work of government more accessible to all Victorians," the spokeswoman said.

"Telecommunications security is rightly a matter for the Federal Government and its agencies."






Originally published as Why TikTok app could be banned in Australia