The Australian government announced on Tuesday that it would ban TikTok from government devices due to national security concerns, following advice from intelligence agencies. The ban will be implemented “as soon as practicable” and will include exemptions on a “case-by-case basis” with “appropriate security mitigations in place”. Cyber security experts have warned that the app, which has over one billion global users, could be used to collect user data and share it with the Chinese government. It is estimated that seven million Australians use the app, or about a quarter of the population.
Australia is the last member of the Five Eyes security alliance to pursue a government TikTok ban, joining its allies the United States, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand. France, the Netherlands, and the European Commission have also made similar moves. Fergus Ryan, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that banning the app on government phones was a “no-brainer” due to the accessibility of TikTok user data in China.
TikTok has denied any wrongdoing and said that such bans are “rooted in xenophobia,” while also insisting that it is not owned or operated by the Chinese government. The company’s Australian spokesman, Lee Hunter, said that it would “never” give data to the Chinese government and that no one was working harder to ensure that it would never be a possibility. However, the firm acknowledged in November that some employees in China could access European user data, and in December, it said that employees had used the data to spy on journalists.
The app is used to share short, lighthearted videos and has exploded in popularity in recent years. Many government departments were initially eager to use TikTok as a way to connect with a younger demographic that is harder to reach through traditional media channels. New Zealand banned TikTok from government devices in March, saying that the risks were “not acceptable in the current New Zealand Parliamentary environment.” Earlier this year, the Australian government announced that it would be removing Chinese-made CCTV cameras from politicians’ offices due to security concerns.