Australia bans TikTok on government devices due to security concerns

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Tuesday banned TikTok from all federal government-owned devices over security concerns, becoming the latest U.S. ally to take action against the Chinese-owned video app.

The ban highlights growing concerns that the Beijing-based company, owned by ByteDance Ltd, could be used by China to collect user data to further its political agenda, undermining Western security interests.

It also risks renewing diplomatic tensions between Australia and its biggest trading partner after things have calmed down somewhat since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took office in May at the head of a Labor government.

TikTok said it was deeply disappointed by Australia’s decision, calling it “motivated by politics rather than reality”.

The ban will go into effect “as soon as practicable,” Attorney General Mark Dreyfuss said in a statement, adding that waivers would only be granted on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security measures in place.

With Australia banned, 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 agencies. France, Belgium and the European Commission have announced similar bans.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, in testimony before the US Congress last month, has repeatedly denied the app shares data or has connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok’s general manager for Australia and New Zealand, Lee Hunter, said TikTok in particular should not be singled out.

“There is no evidence to suggest that TikTok in any way poses a security risk to Australians and it should not be treated differently from other social media platforms,” ​​Hunter said in a statement.

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The Australian newspaper reported late Monday that Albanese had agreed to the ban after a review by the Department of Home Affairs.

Dreyfuss confirmed that the federal government recently received a “Review of Foreign Interference Through Social Media Apps” report and that its recommendations are still being considered.

Trade talks ‘going well’

The ban comes on the day Australian and Chinese officials held talks in Beijing to try to normalize trade as the World Trade Organization prepares to publish findings on an Australian complaint over barley tariffs.

“It’s going well, but of course it’s going to take some time to turn this ship around,” Commerce Secretary Don Farrell told Sky News, referring to prospects for improved trade relations.

In 2018, Australia banned Chinese company Huawei from providing equipment during the rollout of its 5G network, angering China. Relations soured further after Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian goods.

Australian lawmakers can still use TikTok on personal phones, but some, including Federal Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, have decided to delete their accounts.

A government spokesperson told Reuters that the state of Victoria will also ban the app on phones owned by the state government.

While TikTok is under increasing pressure over potential Chinese influence on the platform, it is also facing criticism over its impact on children.

TikTok said the administration of President Joe Biden has demanded that its Chinese owners give up their stakes or face a possible US ban.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham, Ringo Jose and Louis Jackson) Editing by Gerry Doyle, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Robert Purcell

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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