The federal government must do more to confront emerging tech giants like Tiktok over its “problematic practices” and to better inform Australians about the risks associated with using them, shadow cybersecurity spokesman Tim Watts said.
In Federation Chamber speech, Mr Watts raised concerns about the Chinese social media giant Tiktok in relation to its suspension of the account of a 17-year-old girl who had posted videos condemning the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Tiktok, a video-sharing platform owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has since apologised to the user and claimed she had previously been suspended for a video featuring Osama bin Laden on an old account.
These are emerging tech issues on which the Australian government needed to get on the front foot, Mr Watts said.
“It raises an important question for liberal democracies – how should we treat international internet platforms developed and managed in illiberal societies?” Mr Watts said.
“It’s easy to imagine how such platforms could be used for illiberal purposes of varying levels of concern – data harvesting for intelligence purposes, data harvesting for foreign influence operations, data harvesting for coercion of individuals and foreign interference, and censorship for propaganda purposes – or even electoral interference,” he said.
Tiktok has now been downloaded 1.5 billion times, mostly outside of China, and has had more downloads than Facebook and Twitter this year.
The rise of the tech company and its practices on censorship raises serious questions for the Australian government when a company’s practices aren’t necessarily consistent with Australia’s.
While there are no clear answers, the government should be taking the lead and discussing these issues in public, and informing Australian users of the potential risks involved with the foreign-owned company and their data.
“The least we can ask for is that the Australian government ensure that it is in a position to inform Australian users of any problematic practices they may be subjected to on these platforms. It’s important that the government talks to the Australian public about these issues,” Mr Watts said.
“We’ve got a way to go on this front. It’s not even clear which minister has responsibility for these issues in Australia today,” he said.
“We need to do better [and] quickly. It may seem challenging to confront these platforms now, but the issue will only grow in significance. It will be easier to act sooner rather than later.”