TikTok back in the Parliament’s firing line

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

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.

TikTok social media
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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.

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.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

1 Comment
  1. “Sending information overseas

    Sometimes, we may send your information overseas, including to:

    CommBank Group members that are located in China, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States of America
    service providers or third parties who store data or operate outside Australia
    complete international transactions, such as currency exchanges
    organisations we partner with to provide products and services
    comply with laws and help government or law enforcement agencies.

    If we do this, we make sure there are appropriate privacy, data handling and security arrangements in place to protect your information.”

    Love, Commonwealth Bank of Australia.


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