Australia banned TikTok on Tuesday from all federal government-owned devices over security concerns, becoming the latest US-allied country to take action against the Chinese-owned video app.
The ban underscores growing worries that China could use the Beijing-based company, owned by ByteDance, to harvest users’ data to advance its political agenda, undermining Western security interests.
It also risks renewing diplomatic tension between Australia and its largest trading partner after things eased somewhat since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took office in May at the head of a Labour government.
TikTok said it was extremely disappointed by Australia’s decision, calling it “driven by politics, not by fact”.
The ban will come into effect “as soon as practicable”, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement, adding that exemptions would only be granted on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security measures in place.
With Australia’s ban, all members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network – which consists of Australia, Canada, the United States, Britain and New Zealand – have banned the app from government devices. France, Belgium and the European Commission have announced similar bans.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, in testimony before the US Congress last month, repeatedly denied the app shares data or has connections with the Chinese Communist Party.
TikTok’s Australia and New Zealand General Manager Lee Hunter said 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,” Hunter said in a statement.
The Australian newspaper late on Monday reported Albanese had agreed to the ban after a review by the Home Affairs department.
Dreyfus confirmed the federal government had recently received a “Review into Foreign Interference through Social Media Applications” report and that its recommendations remained under consideration.
Trade talks ‘going well’
The ban comes on the day Australian and Chinese officials held talks in Beijing in a bid to normalise trade as the World Trade Organisation prepares to release findings into an Australian complaint on barley tariffs.
“Things are going well, but of course, it’ll take some time to turn this ship around,” Trade Minister Don Farrell told Sky News, referring to prospects for improving trade relations.
In 2018, Australia banned China’s Huawei from providing equipment during the rollout of its 5G network, riling China. Ties soured further after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19.
China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities.
Australian lawmakers can still use TikTok on personal phones but some, including federal Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews, have decided to delete their accounts.
Victoria state will also ban the app on state government-owned phones, a government spokesperson told Reuters.
While TikTok comes under mounting pressure over the potential Chinese influence over the platform, it also faces criticism over its influence on children.
TikTok has said the administration of President Joe Biden demanded its Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a potential US ban.
© Thomson Reuters 2023