The Australian head of TikTok has claimed the app is being singled out because of its links to China as he hit back at critics who have raised fears about data harvesting.
Lee Hunter, the general manager for TikTok Australia and New Zealand, launched another strident defence of the app on Thursday as the government decides whether to follow the US, Britain, Europe and New Zealand in banning it on government-issued devices.
While TikTok Australia has said it wouldn’t share any information with the Chinese government, it sparked concerns about the privacy of the estimated 7 million Australians who use the app when it confirmed last year that their user data was also accessible in mainland China.
Mr Hunter said TikTok — whose parent company is the Beijing-based ByteDance — was safe to use and shouldn’t be targeted over any other social media app just because it originated in China.
“We’re welcoming the idea that the government might be country agnostic to looking at data security and privacy,” he told ABC Radio.
The local head of TikTok has claimed the app is being singled out because of its links to China. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Tim Pascoe
Asked about the clause in China’s national intelligence laws, which states that all Chinese organisations should support, assist and co-operate with Chinese intelligence efforts, Mr Hunter insisted TikTok wasn’t the only company that had ties to China.
“This 2017 security law gets talked about a lot. Of course we have employees in China, but we’re not alone in that,” he said.
“And if I look at the privacy policies of many Australian banks and telecommunications companies, they state in their privacy policies that they too have employees in China that they share data with. So we’re not alone in this.”
Mr Hunter said there was “no evidence” to support that people’s data were at risk and said most of the concerns about TikTok were held by people who didn’t use the app.
“I think what’s happening here is we’re getting caught up in wider geopolitical issues,” he said.
“And there are clearly tensions between many countries … and China, and whatever you might think of China, we are not China.”
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil is considering the recommendations from a review into social media apps. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
The interview was the latest in a series of recent media appearances Mr Hunter has made to defend TikTok in the face of growing concerns about how the app manages user privacy.
His comments come after The Australian newspaper reported senior Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet officials had raised concerns the government’s security review into social media apps including TikTok could pose a diplomatic risk.
The Albanese government is mulling the recommendations from a recently-completed review by the Home Affairs Department into privacy and security risks around the use of social media platforms including TikTok on government devices.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil is considering the review but it’s understood there isn’t yet a firm deadline on when she will publicly respond to it or take its recommendations to cabinet.
“The government has received the review and is considering its recommendations,” a spokesman for Ms O’Neil said.
“We are working to undo the years of inaction under the previous government, who failed to act or even provide advice about these issues as they developed.”
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