18 March 2024

Australia not rushing to follow US lead over TikTok ban

| Chris Johnson
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TikTok app

Despite what the US is doing, Australia isn’t ready to ban the TikTok app. Photo: James Coleman.

Canberra isn’t rushing to follow Washington’s lead in banning social media app TikTok, but the Federal Government is taking advice on the matter.

In fact, for more than a year, the government has been sitting on a high-level security review examining privacy concerns over the use of TikTok.

The Department of Home Affairs review, which was undertaken with input from the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Cyber Security Centre, was ordered by Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil in September 2022.

Despite renewed calls from the Opposition to respond to the review, the Minister isn’t commenting specifically on it, but her office says the US bill is being monitored.

Shadow home affairs minister James Paterson described it as “deeply concerning” that the government has not responded to the review.

The Attorney-General’s Department’s Privacy Commissioner is also investigating how TikTok handles personal information and whether that is compliant with Australia’s Privacy Act.

However, in the United States, Congress’s lower house has approved a bill to ban TikTok in America if the platform’s Chinese-based owner, ByteDance, refuses to divest from the app.

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It is now with the US Senate, which could take some time to consider the bill.

ByteDance potentially has about six months to divest its interest in TikTok or lose its massive US market completely.

Beijing has described the move as American bullying. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia wouldn’t copy the US.

While Australia echoes some of the same concerns the US has about the potential for the data TikTok collects to be shared with foreign governments – and weaponised for political or blackmail purposes – it is not yet prepared to take a step as drastic as eliminating the use of the video sharing app in this country.

The Federal Government banned the use of TikTok on all Australian Public Service devices last year, citing “significant security and privacy risks” from foreign entities.

“The government has said that we’re not going to ban the app,” Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said during a recent media appearance.

“We will rely on the advice of our security agencies.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, while agreeing that advice from security agencies was vital in guiding policy, would like to see a ban imposed on TikTok similar to what the US is progressing with.

“If photos of young kids are being scraped from their accounts and stored by a third party, whether it’s a country or state actor or whether it’s an organised crime group, then the Prime Minister has to act,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.

“If data is being scraped by the terabytes off these accounts and young people are being exposed to extortion at some point, or just their personal data being collected, it’s not a safe platform.”

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Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the government was treating the issue seriously, with the first move being the ban on government devices.

“I think it is right for Australians to be concerned about how their personal information is being used and potentially exploited by any other entity,” she told ABC Radio.

“We take these matters and decisions in a very sober way, based on the assessments and the best advice that we have.

“Our intelligence agencies are the best in the world and we’ll always be guided by their assessments and recommendations.”

When Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek was asked to comment on the issue, she urged user caution.

“We’ve got a ban here in Australia on government devices, but there are 8.5 million Australians who are using [TikTok],” she said.

“We’ll take the advice of our security and intelligence agencies on anything we need to do around TikTok.

“I think people should be careful of the data that they put online in general.

“Like I say, if the security and intelligence agencies give us advice on TikTok, we’ll take it.”

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CCP-Labor wouldn’t ban tiktok. They’d get in trouble with their masters

There will be no fun to follow the US masters. 😉

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