TikTok banned on Australian government devices over security concerns

The logo of Chinese-owned video app TikTok is seen on a smartphone in front of an image of the Australian national flag in this illustration picture taken April 4, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/Illustration

Australia banned TikTok from all federal government-owned smartphones on Tuesday because of security concerns, making it the most recent U.S. ally to take action against the Chinese-owned video app.

The ban highlights rising concerns that China could use the Beijing-based company, owned by ByteDance Ltd, to harvest user data to advance its political agenda, harming Western security interests.

It also risks reigniting diplomatic tensions between Australia and its leading trading partner, which had partly subsided since the May election of Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

TikTok expressed significant disappointment with Australia's decision, stating that it was "driven by politics, not by the fact"

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement that the prohibition would go into effect "as soon as practicable," adding that exemptions would be given only on a case-by-case basis and with adequate security measures.

All members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network - Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand - have banned the app from government devices. France, Belgium, and the European Commission have announced similar prohibitions.

In testimony before the U.S. Congress last month, the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, denied the app distributes data or had ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

General Manager of Australia and New Zealand for TikTok, Lee Hunter, stated that TikTok should not be singled out.

"There is no evidence to suggest that TikTok is in any way a security risk to Australians and should not be treated differently to other social media platforms," said Hunter in a statement.

The Australian newspaper claimed late Monday that Albanese had consented to the ban following a review by the Department of Home Affairs.

Dreyfus stated that the federal government had recently received a study titled "Review into Foreign Interference through Social Media Applications" and that its recommendations were still being considered.

Trade Talks 'Going Well'

The embargo comes on the same day that Australian and Chinese officials met in Beijing to discuss normalizing trade as the World Trade Organization prepares to release its findings on an Australian barley tariff complaint.

Commerce Minister Don Farrell told Sky News that it would take time to improve commercial relations.

In 2018, Australia prohibited Huawei from supplying equipment to deploy its 5G network, which angered China. Once Canberra demanded an independent probe into the origin of COVID-19, relations deteriorated further.

China imposed taxes on Australian commodities in response.

Australian MPs can still use TikTok on their smartphones, but some have deleted their accounts, including federal Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Victoria state Governor Daniel Andrews.

A government spokesman for the state of Victoria told Reuters that the app would also be banned on state-owned smartphones.

While TikTok faces increasing scrutiny on the potential Chinese influence on its platform, it is also criticized for its impact on minors.

According to TikTok, the government of former Vice President Joe Biden urged that its Chinese owners sell their shares or face a possible U.S. ban.

Publish : 2023-04-04 12:00:00

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