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Members of the Australian government will have to remove TikTok from their apps, the justice minister announced on Tuesday. The Chinese social network is in the sights of Canberra, but also of several other Western countries such as the United States and France, due to security fears.
Australia announced on Tuesday April 4 that it would ban members of its government from using the Chinese app TikTok on their work devices, joining a series of similar decisions in Western countries due to security fears. TikTok is owned by Chinese group ByteDance, which has a similar but separate app for China.
This decision was taken on the advice of Australian intelligence services, and will be put into practice “as soon as possible”, said Minister of Justice Mark Dreyfus. He said waivers could be granted on a “case-by-case basis” and subject to “appropriate security measures”.
Australia is the latest country in the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance to ban members of its government from TikTok, following the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. Similar measures have been taken in France, the Netherlands and within the European Commission.
For Fergus Ryan, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, this measure is “obvious”. “It has been clear for years that the personal data of TikTok users is accessible in China,” he told AFP. He added that Beijing “would likely perceive this as unfair treatment and discrimination against a Chinese company.”
At the center of fears is a 2017 Chinese law that requires local companies to hand over personal data that would be relevant to national security upon request from the authorities. Beijing maintains that this law poses no threat to ordinary users.
The Chinese government “has never asked or will not ask any company or individual to collect or hand over data from overseas in a way that violates local laws,” a doorman said in March. -spokesman of Chinese diplomacy, Mao Ning. TikTok says these bans are “rooted in xenophobia”, saying it is not owned or dependent on the Chinese government.
The company’s Australian spokesman, Lee Hunter, said TikTok would “never” share data with the Chinese government. “No one is working harder to make sure this is never possible,” he told Australian broadcaster Channel Seven.
TikTok nevertheless admitted in November that some employees in China could access European user data, and admitted in December that employees had used this data to stalk journalists.
The short video sharing app has over a billion active users worldwide, and is especially popular with younger generations. Many Australian government departments had previously sought to grow their presence on TikTok to reach younger audiences.
Earlier this year, the Australian government also announced that it would remove Chinese-made CCTV cameras from politicians’ offices, also for security reasons.