Due to security concerns, Australia has banned the Chinese-owned video app TikTok from all devices used by the federal government, making it the most recent US ally to do so. The prohibition raises worries that Beijing would exploit the ByteDance-owned business to thwart Western security objectives by granting Chinese security authorities access to user data.
Since Labour Prime Minister Anthony Albanese assumed office in May, relations between the two nations have improved; therefore, the action runs the risk of rekindling diplomatic tensions. Australia's decision, according to TikTok, was "driven by politics, not by the fact" and was very disappointing. Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement that the ban would go into effect "as soon as practicable" and that exceptions would only be made in certain circumstances after taking the necessary security precautions.
TikTok has now been banned from government-owned devices in all countries that are a part of the "Five Eyes" intelligence-sharing network, which includes Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, and New Zealand. France, Belgium, and the European Commission have already made similar announcements.
The General Manager of TikTok for Australia and New Zealand, Lee Hunter, responded by emphasizing that the app should not be singled out. He stated that TikTok should not be handled differently from other social media sites since "there is no evidence to suggest that TikTok is in any way a security risk for Australians." On the day the embargo was announced, Australian and Chinese officials negotiated in Beijing to normalize trade as the World Trade Organization got ready to publish findings in a complaint by Canberra regarding barley tariffs.
Due to worries that TikTok could be used by the Chinese government for surveillance or influence operations, given that its parent firm ByteDance is headquartered in China, the app has recently been under fire in the US from several high-ranking lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum as well as official institutions. TikTok refuted the allegations and insisted that the company has robust security procedures. But the Australian government decided against outlawing the app for everyone. The Australian government wants ByteDance to store all Australian data locally so that staff members in China cannot access it. There are reportedly 7 million Australian users per month.
There was bipartisan support for the prohibition, and James Paterson, the spokesperson for the opposition's cybersecurity, applauded it. However, he emphasized that when it came to enforcing the ban, Canberra lagged behind Ottawa, London, Washington, and Christchurch. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying, "Now that this risk is being addressed, we must urgently turn our attention to the broader cybersecurity and foreign interference threat posed by TikTok to the millions of other Australian users." The Communist Party of China must not be let to "retain unregulated access to" information about Australian citizens, he continued. As a result, TikTok should no longer be accessible on devices that belong to state and territorial governments, Paterson continued.
In a statement, TikTok Australia general manager Lee Hunter said, "We are also disappointed that TikTok, and the millions of Australians who use it, were left to learn of this decision through the media, despite our repeated offers to engage with the government constructively about this policy." Hunter also said he sought a meeting with Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil in the weeks before the ban.
The company cited a report from DataReportal, which tracks global digital trends, which stated that Australia had more than 8 million users aged 18 and above as of early 2023.
TikTok poses security and privacy issues, according to a warning from the Attorney General's Office, because of the "extensive collection of user data and exposure to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflicts with Australian law."
No nation has yet issued a more comprehensive ban on TikTok on personal devices, and there is no proof that the Chinese government has accessed user data on the app.
However, if the Chinese company Bytedance refuses to agree to spin off its portion of the social media platform, the Biden administration has vowed to take such action in the United States. The US government is concerned that TikTok, like most social media platforms, may be used by China to acquire the substantial amount of personal data that US users have provided. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was questioned over the tech company's suspected connections to the Chinese government during a prominent congressional hearing on the subject. Chew claims that TikTok has never received a request for data from the Chinese government and will reject any such bid.
China's Commerce Ministry stated that it would "firmly oppose" any move that would force the sale of TikTok and that such a decision would "seriously damage" the confidence of foreign investors in the United States.
Australia's attorney general stated that exemptions would be permitted "on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigation in place," like some other nations that have implemented the ban.
Dreyfus added that the government had recently received the country's Home Affairs Department's review of foreign meddling through social media applications and was considering its recommendations.
Edited By: Whitney Edna Ibe
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