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TikTok Australia: Can China Access User Data And What Can They Do With It?

Bella Farrelly

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TikTok Australia: Can China Access User Data And What Can They Do With It?

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Liberal senator James Paterson wrote to TikTok's Australian director of public policy seeking clarification about the app's handling of local user data.

Brent Thomas admitted that staff in China were indeed able to access Australian data 'despite their previous assurances [the data] was safe because it was stored in the US and Singapore', Paterson added on Twitter.

The public policy director said in a statement: "Our security teams minimise the number of people who have access to data and limit it only to people who need that access in order to do their jobs.

"We have never provided Australian user data to the Chinese government, we have never been asked for Australian user data by the Chinese government, and we would not provide it if we were asked."

Addressing the letter, Paterson challenged the claim that Australian data could not be compromised. 

"TikTok denies they would ever hand over data to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) but this is very hard to believe given their national security laws," he wrote.

This is likely in reference to Chinese laws that compel social media companies to hand over information if requested by Beijing, and others requiring companies to store data and allow authorities to conduct 'spot checks' of their operations.

What Can TikTok Do With Local User Data?

The social media giant's admission of having access to Australian user data has sparked fears as to what they could do with it.

Director of Cyber Intelligence at CyberCX Katherine Mansted has said that with data alone, the CCP—which 'has an insatiable appetite for personal information of Australian citizens' — could manipulate public opinion or map out the Australian sentiment on a given topic. 

Such claims are bolstered by the scrutiny TikTok has faced for its ownership by ByteDance.

Cyber security expert Fergus Ryan has said that while the government should not rule out banning the platform, Donald Trump's failure to do so showed that bans don't always work.

Instead, the government might consider implementing regulations that require the platform to be transparent with its data.

Topics: TikTok, Australia

Bella Farrelly
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