Australia Has ‘No Plans’ to Follow US TikTok Ban

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Security experts have noted several concerns with TikTok, particularly how it collects the data of young individuals and Gen Z users.

Australia is unlikely to follow the United States’ lead in banning TikTok, despite mounting security concerns over the popular social media app.

The short-form video app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is one of the fastest-growing platforms worldwide, with over 170 million users in the United States, and 8.5 million users in Australia.

However, national security concerns led the U.S. House of Representatives to overwhelmingly pass a bill on March 13, mandating ByteDance to sell TikTok to a non-Chinese company within six months. The bill has yet to pass the Senate.

If it fails to comply, TikTok will be banned across the United States on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

Fears have arisen about TikTok’s data collection practices from its 170 million American users, with security experts concerned the data could be repurposed for surveillance and intelligence gathering by Beijing.

However, on March 14, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declared that the government had no plans to follow the United States’ approach.

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“I think you’ve got to be pretty cautious, you’ve always got to have national security concerns front and centre but you also need to acknowledge that for a whole lot of people, this provides a way of them communicating and so we haven’t got advice at this stage to do that.”

In Australia, TikTok is banned on government devices, prohibiting public servants from downloading the app on their work phones, an initiative endorsed by the prime minister as “an appropriate measure that we’ve put in place.”

The app has become a focal point for security concerns globally, prompting the UK, EU, Canada, and the United States to also prohibit the app on government devices for security reasons. In 2020, the Indian authorities banned the app outright, as well as 50 other Chinese applications.

The Taliban in Afghanistan also banned the app last year for “misleading the younger generation.”

TikTok CEO ‘Disappointed’ Over Bill

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said that as of July 2022, it has invested over $1.5 billion in data security efforts through “Project Texas,” employing nearly 1,500 full-time workers and partnering with Oracle Corp to store TikTok’s U.S. user data.

Mr. Chew said TikTok had been working for over two years to create a firewall to “seal off protected U.S. user data from unauthorised foreign access. The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel.”

The TikTok CEO responded by saying the move was “disappointing” and stated his intention to “exercise legal rights.”

“It [the bill] will take billions of dollars out of the pockets of creators and small businesses. It will put more than 300,000 American jobs at risk,” he said.

The U.S. vote occurred just a day after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its partners raised constitutional concerns.

The ACLU penned a letter to the House of Representatives urging them to reject the bill, fearing it would violate the First Amendment rights of Americans who use TikTok for information, communication, advocacy, and entertainment.

It follows a recent ruling in the U.S. state of Montana that ruled that TikTok could not be banned because it would violate the First Amendment.

Concerns the App Could Impact Election

Some view the recent vote as a response to growing tensions between Beijing and Washington amid concerns the app could influence younger generations in the lead-up to the next election.

The 2024 presidential elections will take place on Nov. 5, 2024, and will determine the country’s new president and vice president.

“In November 2022, the company [TikTok] changed its privacy policy. It now said staff in China could access data. In fact, it went further, stating that European users’ data was accessible to TikTok staff in Brazil, Canada, Israel, the US and Singapore. This did little to help quell security concerns,” University of Surrey Computer Science Professor Alan Woodward said.

A cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0, reported similar concerns about TikTok, saying the data collected data could be used to build user profiles for future use.

Claims That US Social Media Are No Safer

Singaporean lawyer Andrew Tan has criticised countries that have banned TikTok, considering their actions misguided.

“I must explain what TikTok is not. It’s not a banking or security app. It’s an app to show off dance moves, review food and provide makeup tips. TikTok data won’t be much use to foreign powers,” he said.

He said American social media companies had performed poorly when it came to managing data privacy and user security, citing examples like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook agreed to settle a lawsuit over the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2022, when it let the firm access the private data of millions of users.

Meanwhile, TikTok’s fate now rests with U.S. senators, who will review the legislation passed by the House with a 352-65 vote.

TikTok narrowly avoided a complete ban in the United States in 2020 under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

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