Australia has no intention of banning TikTok, the government has announced, but intelligence agencies will continue to monitor the popular video app’s links to China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has distanced himself from US President Donald Trump’s threat to ban the Chinese-owned app amid spying allegations.
Rubbishing claims of Chinese intelligence gathering, Mr Morrison said there was no proof that TikTok user’s data was being compromised.
‘We’ll obviously keep watching them but there’s no evidence to suggest to us today that that is a step that is necessary,’ Mr Morrison told the online Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday.
‘There’s nothing at this point that would suggest to us that security interests are being compromised or Australian citizens are being compromised.
‘But people should know that the line connects right back to China and they should exercise their own judgment about whether they should participate in those things or not.’
Australia has no intention of banning TikTok (pictured) but intelligence agencies will continue to monitor the popular short-video app
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured on Wednesday) has distanced himself from US President Donald Trump’s threat to ban the Chinese-owned app
The prime minister confirmed last month Australia was looking at TikTok over national security concerns about the personal data it handles.
‘We are always very mindful of those risks and we are always monitoring them very, very closely,’ he told 3AW radio at the time.
‘If we consider there is a need to take further action than we are taking now, then I can tell you we won’t be shy about it.’
China’s US ambassador Cui Tiankai told the Aspen Security Forum there was no evidence the company was sharing information with Beijing.
Mr Trump has threatened to ban TikTok in the US on September 15 unless its American operations are sold.
The US president wants the government to get a ‘substantial portion’ of the sale price.
This comes after one of Australia’s leading China experts claimed a ban on the popular social media app was ‘inevitable’, fearing users’ personal data is likely being sent to Beijing.
Professor Clive Hamilton told Daily Mail Australia the Communist Party could use the app to keep tabs on anyone who criticises the totalitarian regime.
Federal Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie (pictured) is calling for Chinese social media apps to be banned
TikTok is a Chinese social media app where users can live stream, create short videos and music videos and Gifs with a host of functions. Pictured: A video shared by soldiers
HOW DOES TIKTOK WORK?
- Users post videos of themselves and broadcast them on the app
- Anyone can find these videos and post comments on them
- It also allows you to message that person privately
- Some of the most popular videos are watched more than 10 million times
- Each TikTok video is generally 15 to 60 seconds long
- The videos are typically set to music, often showing the user dancing, doing a trick, or lip-syncing
‘Chinese authorities are already monitoring TikTok usage particularly for people who are of interest,’ he said.
‘That creates a real problem for freedom of expression and for the protection of intrusion from the Chinese State.’
The Australian Defence Force already banned its personnel from downloading the app on their phone earlier this year and it now appears likely a blanket ban will go into action for all Australians.
‘I expect the Australian government to take a lot of interest in TikTok and the way the Chinese regime is using TikTok to monitor people in the west,’ Prof Hamilton said.
‘I think it is only a matter of time before western governments realise the extent of surveillance that Beijing has undertaken through social media platforms including TikTok.
‘I think the banning of TikTok is inevitable.’
President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday that the days of Chinese social media apps are numbered in America.
‘As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the US… I have that authority,’ he said.
Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or sign off on an executive order to cement the ban, but he gave no further details about when he may do this.
Australian Federal MP and chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, Andrew Hastie, said although the platform is mainly used by younger people it still poses a major risk to national security.
‘TikTok is largely used by teenagers but they’re our future leaders,’ Mr Hastie told the ABC.
Celebrities such as Justin and Hailey Bieber are prominent on the social media app (pictured, one of their posts)
‘They’re our future political, economic, cultural and military leaders and we need to protect their information long term.
‘I certainly don’t want my children’s data going to a foreign country who might use it for nefarious purposes.’
It has been revealed that Australian government is preparing to hold an inquiry into Chinese social media apps including TikTok, Wechat and Weibo, in the coming weeks.
The probe is to be led by Australian security agencies and details will not be made public, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Although apps like Wechat and Weibo are mostly used by Chinese diaspora, TikTok has become a genuine global phenomenon.
The popular video app, owned by Chinese company Bytedance, features an unending loop of 15-second videos and is used by more than 1.6 million Australians – most of whom are under 25.
Indian demonstrators shout slogans as they burn an effigy depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping, following a border stoush (pictured on June 18)
An Indian journalist holds a placard calling for boycott of Chinese products (pictured on June 30)
The Indian government has already outlawed Chinese social platforms, labelling them a ‘threat to sovereignty and integrity’.
TikTok asks users for access to their phone’s camera, microphone contact list and location when they sign up.
But TikTok fiercely denies any personal data is set to the Chinese Government.
‘Don’t make TikTok a political football,’ the company wrote in full page advertisements published in major Australian newspapers recently.
The advert says the popular video platform is one of Australia’s most loved apps and that it’s fun, safe and independent.
‘Australia’s data has always been secure with us. We’re focused on your safety every day,’ the ad reads.
TikTok Australia has beefed up its campaign to uphold its reputation after federal MPs called for the app to be banned and claimed it was feeding user data to China
‘We strive to be a platform that is both safe and fun to use, and we prioritise protecting the security of our users’ data.’
‘The truth is, with tensions rising between some countries, TikTok has unfortunately been caught in the middle, and is being used by some as a political football.
‘I assure you – we’re a social media platform for sharing videos – that’s all.’
Although TikTok claims users’ data is not being sent to the Chinese government, security experts say Beijing has the power to order the company to hand over the data at any time.
‘Not all companies are fronts for the Chinese Communist Party but the problem is, under Chinese law the government can compel any company to hand over any information or perform any act that is in the interest of national security or national intelligence, which is extremely broad,’ Dr John Lee from the US Studies Centre told Daily Mail Australia.
‘So even if a company is not a front for the Chinese Communist Party it can be used as a front for the Chinese Communist Party at any time.’
WHAT IS TIK TOK?
TikTok is a Chinese social media app where users can live stream, create short videos and music videos and Gifs with a host of functions.
TikTok’s tagline is ‘Make every second count’.
It was the most downloaded app in the US in 2018 and the world’s fourth most downloaded app in 2018, ahead of Instagram and Snapchat.
TikTok is known in China as Douyin where it was launched in 2016 and then made more widely available around the world in 2017.
Douyin is still the version of the app used in China, available to download separately to TikTok.
Last year, the app was merged with popular music video lip-syncing app Musical.ly, also with headquarters in China.
Most children use the app to film themselves lip-syncing to chart hits.
It offers users a raft if colourful modification and editing tools including overlaying music, sound, animated stickers, filters and augmented reality (AR) for creating short videos.
The Beijing based social network has more than 500 million active users and the company is now worth more than $75 billion (£58 billion).