Australia joins United States, France, and United Kingdom, to ban the use of TikTok on federal government devices over security concerns. This decision has been made based on warnings from Western officials that China could use the app, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, to spy on users and manipulate public debate.
“Five Eyes” ban
The Australian Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, announced on Tuesday that the ban would be implemented as soon as practicable, with exemptions allowed on a case-by-case basis subject to security precautions. This decision makes Australia the last of the “Five Eyes” intelligence partners to introduce such restrictions, following the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand.
Concerns in Australia over alleged espionage and interference by Beijing have led to the passing of sweeping anti-foreign interference legislation and restrictions on Chinese firms, including Huawei. The Australian government’s decision to ban TikTok on federal government devices is a part of these restrictions.
Despite TikTok’s denial that it represents a security risk, the US Congress is currently considering legislation that would force ByteDance to sell the app or face an outright ban. TikTok has 150 million US users, and critics argue that a ban could be incompatible with the free speech rights guaranteed by the US constitution. Furthermore, some have criticized the US government’s own track record of spying and US tech companies’ poor record on privacy.
Resistance from Chinese government
The Chinese government has said it would “firmly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok, and basing such a move on “foreign ownership, rather than its products and services” would damage investor confidence in the US. While it is unclear how these concerns will be resolved, the issue highlights the growing tensions between China and other countries over technology and data privacy.
There are several reasons why TikTok’s ownership by ByteDance raises security concerns. Firstly, ByteDance is a Chinese company, and therefore subject to Chinese law, which allows the government to request data from companies if it deems it necessary for national security reasons.
Secondly, TikTok’s algorithms have come under scrutiny, with concerns that they could be used to manipulate public opinion or target specific users for propaganda purposes. Finally, there are concerns that TikTok collects data on users that could be used for targeted advertising or other purposes.
In response to these concerns, TikTok has announced that it will establish a “transparency center” in the US, which will allow outside experts to review its content moderation policies, data privacy practices, and the algorithms that power its app. However, critics have argued that this move is not sufficient to address the underlying security concerns.
The US government has also taken steps to address concerns over Chinese ownership of technology companies. In addition to considering legislation to force ByteDance to sell TikTok, the US has imposed restrictions on other Chinese technology companies, such as Huawei. These restrictions have led to tensions between the US and China, with some analysts suggesting that the two countries are engaged in a “tech cold war”.
The decision by Australia to ban TikTok on federal government devices highlights the growing concerns over technology and data privacy in the current geopolitical climate. While there is no easy solution to these issues, it is clear that countries around the world are taking steps to address these concerns and protect their citizens’ data privacy.
It remains to be seen how these tensions will be resolved, but it is clear that technology and data privacy will continue to be major issues in the years ahead.