TikTok has been banned by 25 different government departments and agencies it has been revealed as a social media investigation by Home Affairs approaches completion.
Liberal senator James Paterson said the government and civil service approach to TikTok had been “haphazard and inconsistent” given that it was banned on some government-issued devices and not others.
In total, 25 departments have completely banned the video-sharing app on devices, 12 have issued partial bans, and 11 permitted the app. Five agencies did not respond to questions or did not answer clearly about their approach to TikTok.
TikTok told The Australian Financial Review that:
“Just like many private sector organisations, Commonwealth government agencies have policies that may restrict the use of social media and messaging apps on devices. In the case of these departments, we understand the restrictions apply to a range of apps and software, not just TikTok.”
TikTok has been banned by government agencies on state-issued devices in the US and Canada recently, with both countries citing potential security risks. Some US politicians are pushing for an outright ban on the app on public devices, as well.
“We’re sorry to see the unintended consequences of these rushed TikTok bans — policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity — beginning to impact universities’ ability to share information, recruit students, and build communities around athletic teams, student groups, campus publications, and more,” a TikTok spokesperson told B&T following its ban in Texas.
Last July, TikTok admitted to senator Paterson that employees around the world, including in China, can access certain data from other users. TikTok said at the time that it had “strict protocols in place to protect Australian user data.”
“The risks posed by this app have been apparent for some time, particularly since their July 2022 admission about user data, and the revelations in December that employees of TikTok in China used the app to spy on journalists writing critical articles about the company and lied about doing so,” said Paterson.
“The Albanese government must now finally act. TikTok should be banned on all federal government devices unless exceptional circumstances exist,” he added.
TikTok said in its submission to the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media, which Paterson chairs, that it should not be used as a political football.
“As we embrace the opportunity to contribute to these discussions, we note as well that much has been made of our company’s Chinese heritage. We are proud of our heritage, and it’s important to note that we operate no differently to other global companies and claims to the contrary are unsubstantiated by evidence,” TikTok said.
“As this submission details, and as even a cursory search of our platform for politically contentious subject matter will reveal, we do not moderate content on TikTok based on the political sensitivities of any government, including China’s. For example, our users can readily find content on our app which contradicts the official Chinese government position on contemporary events, including the recent shooting down of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over the United States.”
A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said: “The Minister for Home Affairs is conducting a review of all social media platforms and she will consider the recommendations of that review once it is finalised.”
O’Neil has ruled out completely banning the app.