Social media app TikTok has responded to calls for the platform to be banned in Australia over data concerns, with reports the local arm of the app set to face a parliamentary committee to discuss privacy worries.
The growing social media sensation is owned by Chinese company ByteDance and has long faced backlash over how it uses and stores users’ data.
It is believed around 1.5 million Australians currently use the app, with the majority being those under the age of 25.
TikTok launched into the Australia market in June and has faced plenty of probing, with reports of an unnamed member of Parliament asking for the app to be banned locally, calling for the app to be brought before a Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media.
Committee chair senator Jenny McAllister said TikTok should comply with the request to speak at the senate inquiry.
“Part of the job of this Committee is to get all of those stakeholders in the room and create a forum where we can have a really good discussion about what are the boundaries, about what is and isn’t acceptable on these types of matters.”
Even Scott Morrison addressed TikTok during a 2GB interview, comparing the app to the government’s CovidSafe app and questioning why Australians are concerned about data misuse on the government’s platform but more than willing to upload content to TikTok.
“People have to be quite conscious in this digital age that all of these platforms, they all go back to places and people are knowingly handing over their data,” he said.
“I think it’s right for people to have an increased awareness of where these platforms originate and the risks they present.”
Meanwhile, TikTok Australian general manager Lee Hunter told B&T dismissed reports and said that the concerns were based on an unnamed source while defending TikTok’s data privacy.
Hunter said: “TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government, and would not do so if asked. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity.
“Today’s news report is based on an unnamed source, supported by an organisation which has disclosed the receipt of foreign funding to publish its reports.
“We prioritise building next generation security programs to protect our users’ privacy, and we understand the importance of being transparent with our community in order to build and maintain trust. Our Cyber Defense, Security Assurance, and Data Protection programs will be front and center in our new Transparency Center that we recently announced.”
Hunter said consumers in Australia “love TikTok” and the app provided on making the experience both “safe as well as fun”.
“We already have multiple safety measures in place for consumers, and we are continuing to invest in making it even safer.
“We always welcome the opportunity to meet with policy makers to talk about TikTok, including the steps we’re taking to make it an even safer and more creative place.”
A TikTok spokesperson further told B&T TikTok’s privacy practices are similar to other global technology companies, including those based in Silicon Valley.
The spokesperson said: “We will continue to drive our goal of limiting the number of employees who have access to user data and the scenarios where data access is enabled. Although we already have controls in place to protect user data, we will continue to focus on adding new technologies and programs focused on global data residency, data movement, and data storage access protections worldwide.
“Our goal is to minimise data access across regions so that, for example, employees in other parts of the APAC region, including China, would have very minimal access to user data.”
However, partner at venture capital firm Airtree Ventures James Cameron told the SMH that users should still be concerned as “it is still unclear how that data is being used”.
“TikTok is able to collect a huge amount of potentially sensitive data about its users [and] ByteDance is required to share this data with their government if requested to do so.”
“[…] users need to be aware that they are potentially sharing very sensitive personal details with the Chinese government via the app,” he said.
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