TikTok’s data security is back under scrutiny in Australia after global executives confirmed Chinese employees had access to information on US users. Both the government and the Opposition are now seeking assurances about Australian users’ data from local executives.
The viral video-sharing app owned by China’s ByteDance last week told US lawmakers that some of its China-based employees had access to certain information about American users, including public videos and comments.
While the company insists the employees are security cleared and the data is protected and not shared with the Chinese government, the revelation sparked fears of foreign influence through the platform from US senators.
More than 7 million Australians use TikTok, and the company is increasingly gaining user attention from rival Facebook platforms.
Australian senator and opposition spokesman for cybersecurity and countering foreign interference James Paterson wrote to TikTok Australia on Sunday, asking if Australian user data was subject to employee access, and on what basis the company could refuse an access request from the Chinese government.
I’ve written to @tiktokaustralia following revelations in the US that user data is accessible in mainland China, putting it within reach of the Chinese government. Australian TikTok users deserve to know whether their private information is equally exposed pic.twitter.com/6Wn4fEZGXF
— James Paterson (@SenPaterson) July 3, 2022
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has similar concerns.
“I have sought a briefing from my department on the reports about potential misuse of TikTok user data, and what potential implications there are for Australians,” Mr Dreyfus said.
TikTok has faced scrutiny about its data security and government access for years but has rejected criticism in Australia.
In 2020 the company’s Australian general manager Lee Hunter wrote to MPs to reassure them “TikTok’s Australian user data is stored in Singapore and the United States”
He said TikTok’s Australian user data had never been provided to the Chinese Government, nor would it be, adding the company was being used as a “political football”.
Both Labor and the Coalition have been critical of TikTok, with previous prime minister Scott Morrison claiming the app’s “extension cord goes back to China”.
Attornet General Mark Dreyfus has flagged sweeping reforms to Australian privacy laws will be unveiled within months, some of which will go to technology companies’ data practices.
“The Government is committed to protecting Australians’ personal information, and strengthening privacy laws to empower users to better control and understand how their data is used,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“My Department is currently considering extensive feedback on its review of the Privacy Act 1988 and a report setting out proposed reforms is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
“Unlike the previous government, which let this languish through three whole terms, I intend to act on this in our first term.”
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