“We Have Never Shared Australian User Data With The Chinese Government”: TikTok Addresses Security Concerns

Tyumen, Russia - January 21, 2020: TikTok and Facebook application  on screen Apple iPhone XR
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TikTok has distanced itself from the Chinese government and asked not to be used as a ‘political football’ in a submission to the Senate Inquiry into foreign interference.

With the Chinese-owned video app rapidly gaining popularity, the Senate last year established a Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media to assess whether social media is being used to “undermine Australia’s democracy and values”.

In response to the terms of reference, TikTok addressed the “misinformation about TikTok’s connection to China”.

There had been concerns that TikTok could share the data of Australian users with the Chinese government.

In February, MP Andrew Hastie told 7:30: “China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 means the Chinese Government can compel businesses to share information with them”.

However, in its submission, TikTok suggested this was not the case.

“The personal data we collect from Australian users is stored on servers located in the United States and Singapore,” TikTok said.

“We have strict controls around security and data access. As noted in our Transparency Reports, TikTok has never shared Australian user data with the Chinese government, nor censored Australian content at its request.”

TikTok also said it has not yet received any requests from the Chinese government for Australian user data or any instructions to censor Australian content.

In a note to the Committee, TikTok Australia general manager Lee Hunter suggested TikTok had received more scrutiny in terms of foreign interference as a result of its Chinese background.

“We understand that with our success comes responsibility and accountability. The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so.

“Yet, we have received even more scrutiny due to the company’s origins.

“Whilst we don’t want TikTok to be a political football, we accept this scrutiny and embrace the challenge of giving peace of mind by providing even more transparency and accountability.

“We believe it is essential to show our users, advertisers, creators, and regulators that we are responsible and committed members of the community.”

In July, TikTok launched a “Don’t make TikTok a political football” campaign in response to the scrutiny.

Questions remain

The report is dated 18 September, meaning it was published just days before TikTok confirmed it had struck a deal with Oracle and Walmart to form TikTok Global.

Under the new structure, Oracle and Walmart will own 20 per cent of TikTok Global, which will allow it to avoid a threatened ban by US President Donald Trump.

Under a rejected proposal by Microsoft, TikTok’s Australian operations were to be acquired under any merger, alongside the US.

There has been no announcement on how this new structure will impact Australian operations.

In the submission, TikTok notes: “It has been widely reported that ByteDance has been considering various strategic alternatives to meet the requirements of the US Government that may result in a change to the TikTok business in Australia.

“We would be happy to provide the Select Committee updates on such changes as and when appropriate.”

A TikTok Australia spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

 

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