TikTok's Australian boss rejects allegations it feeds data to the Chinese government, as the app faces increased scrutiny from local lawmakers

TikTok is facing increasing scrutiny in Australia. (Rafael Henrique, SOPA Images, LightRocket via Getty Images)
  • TikTok is facing increasing pressure in Australia, just one month after opening its first local office.
  • This week, an unnamed federal MP called for the app to be banned, while Senator Jenny McAllister encouraged it to face the Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media.
  • It comes amid ongoing allegations the video sharing platform allows the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to collect data on its 1 billion active users and censor content that is politically sensitive to it.
  • TikTok’s Australian management denied it would provide access to the CCP if requested and said it does not share user information with any foreign government.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Having established an Australian office in Sydney just one month ago, viral video platform TikTik is already facing pressure to front up to Parliament.

The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has amassed an enormous global user base by allowing users to share short 15-second videos.

Some allege its viral popularity also gives the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the potential to harvest data from more than 1 billion active users, of which 1.6 million are Australian.

“There have been credible reports that TikTok takes more data than its users would expect, and moderates content for reasons that its users may not be comfortable with,” Senator Jenny McAllister, chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media, said in a statement.

“I think Australians would expect that TikTok and other platforms will appear before the Senate committee to answer questions – both about their own policies and the best way to secure a healthy social media environment.”

There’s certainly mounting pressure on the company to appear before Parliament to answer those questions. This week the Herald Sun published comments from an unnamed federal MP calling for the app to be banned here.

TikTok’s Australian management says the company maintains its independence from the CCP.

“TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity,” TikTok Australia’s general manager Lee Hunter said in a statement provided to Business Insider Australia.

“We always welcome the opportunity to meet with policymakers to talk about TikTok, including the steps we’re taking to make it an even safer and more creative place.”

Hunter also emphasised the fact that the servers where data is stored are housed in Singapore, with limited access from overseas entities.

It’s not the first time TikTok has faced this kind of scrutiny.

Earlier this year, the Australian Defence Force banned TikTok from being downloaded on any device it issued to staff, following a similar ban implemented for US military and airport staff in February.

More recently, India banned it along with dozens of other Chinese apps following a border dispute with China.

It’s become an even more sensitive issue in Australia following heightened tensions with the Chinese government and state-based cyber-attacks in June.

TikTok has also come under fire for the influence it directs over the content on the platform, with leaked documents revealing it censored content deemed politically sensitive for the Chinese government as well as LGBTQ content in conservative countries.

Of course, while TikTok poses a growing threat to US social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, some argue the Chinese app isn’t necessarily more intrusive than what users entrust to its rivals and Google on a daily basis.

Moreover, while it has raised the ire of some policymakers, the users who have flocked to it appear largely unconcerned.


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