Australia has joined other Western countries in banning the use of TikTok on government devices as the Chinese-owned video app comes under increasing pressure over claims it presents a security concern.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the ban on Tuesday after receiving advice from intelligence and security agencies, saying the directive would be imposed “as soon as practicable.”
The decision puts Australia in line with its allies from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – the US, Britain and Canada have already announced similar restrictions, while New Zealand’s parliament also ordered the app be removed from all devices with access to the legislature.
Norway and the European Parliament have made similar moves, and last week NATO banned staffers from downloading the app onto NATO-provided devices, according to two NATO officials familiar with the matter.
Lee Hunter, general manager of TikTok in Australia and New Zealand, said the company is “extremely disappointed by this decision, which, in our view, is driven by politics.”
“Our millions of Australian users deserve a government which makes decisions based upon facts and who treats all businesses fairly, regardless of country of origin,” he said.
He also stressed that the firm had repeatedly reached out to the Australian government for constructive engagement, while maintaining that there had been no evidence to suggest the app posed a security risk to the country.
As of early 2023, Australia has more than 8 million users age 18 and over, according to the company, citing a report from DataReportal, which studies digital trends worldwide.
A notice issued by the Attorney General’s Department said TikTok poses security and privacy risks due to the “extensive collection of user data and exposure to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law.”
So far, there’s no evidence the Chinese government has accessed TikTok user data, and no government has enacted a broader ban targeting TikTok on personal devices.
However, the Biden administration has threatened to do that in the United States unless the app’s Chinese owners, Bytedance, agree to spin off their share of the social media platform.
The US government is worried China could use its national security laws to access the significant amount of personal information that TikTok, like most social media applications, collects from its US users.
During a high profile congressional hearing on the matter, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled about the tech firm’s alleged ties to the Chinese government.
Chew has said the Chinese government had never asked TikTok for its data and that the company would refuse any such request.
For its part, China’s Commerce Ministry said it would “firmly oppose” any decision resulting in the forced sale of TikTok, adding that it would “seriously damage” global investors’ confidence in the United States.
Like some of the other countries which have imposed the curb, Australia’s attorney general said any exemptions would be granted “on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigation in place.”
Dreyfus also said the government had recently received the review into foreign interference through social media applications from the country’s Home Affairs Department, with its recommendations being considered.