Recently, the Australian government has released a TikTok ban on government devices, joining the US, Britain, and Canada due to concerns over its security risks. Specifically, after receiving recommendations from intelligence and security services, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the TikTok ban on Tuesday, saying it will be implemented "as soon as practical." This movement has prompted concerns about national security, and the question is whether Western countries are being overly cautious, or whether this is a necessary effort to prevent increased cybersecurity danger.
First, let's address the question of whether the Chinese government has access to TikTok's user data. While there is no concrete evidence to suggest that this is the case, it's important to note that Western countries are concerned that China would use its national security laws to access personal information held by Chinese companies. Historically proven, in 2019, Huawei’s 5G infrastructure was accused of containing backdoors that provide Beijing the access it needs to target communications networks and public utilities, as well as the ability for the Chinese government to collect and consolidate vast amounts of data. And now, TikTok is being accused of nearly similar issues.
However, TikTok has repeatedly denied that it shares user data with the Chinese government or any other third party. In fact, the company has gone to great lengths to distance itself from its Chinese roots in an effort to alleviate concerns about security and privacy. Previously on the hearing congress, TikTok's CEO Shou Zi Chew has assured that the Chinese government has never asked for TikTok's data, and the company would refuse any such request. However, concerns remain, and the Australian ban will be enforced "as soon as practicable" with exemptions granted on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigation in place.
So, if there's no evidence that the Chinese government has access to TikTok's user data, why have Western governments banned the app on government devices? The answer lies in the concerns that TikTok's data collection practices pose a security risk.
Like many social media apps, TikTok collects a significant amount of user data, including location data, search history, and device information. While this data is used to personalize the app's content and improve the user experience, there are concerns that it could also be accessed by third parties or used for malicious purposes.
The Australian government, in particular, has cited concerns about TikTok's exposure to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflicts with Australian law. This refers to the possibility that the Chinese government could use its national security laws to request user data from TikTok, which could put Australian users' privacy at risk.
It's worth noting that the ban on TikTok in Western countries is limited to government devices. This means that members of the public are still free to use the app if they choose to do so. However, the ban on government devices highlights the concerns that many governments have about the potential security risks posed by TikTok's data collection practices.