TikTok Data Security under Scrutiny in Australia as Executives Face Parliamentary Committee

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In an essential update on data security concerns, TikTok’s Head of Data Security, Will Farrell, admitted that TikTok employees in China have access to Australian user data, albeit on a “very strict basis”. 

The statement was made during a recent questioning by a parliamentary committee in Australia probing into the company’s connections with China.

The committee asked for transparency on how often Australian user data had been accessed by TikTok staff based in China. While Farrell couldn’t provide exact numbers, he confirmed that it had occurred. 

He explained that there were several safeguards in place. For instance, employees can only access the minimum amount of data necessary for their job and must provide a valid business justification. This request must be approved by their manager and the database owner within TikTok.

Ella Woods-Joyce, TikTok’s local head of public policy, addressed China’s 2017 national security law, which mandates companies to provide any personal data relevant to national security to the Chinese government. Woods-Joyce stated that TikTok would refuse to comply with such a request and noted that the company had never been asked to hand over personal data by the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, another Chinese-owned app, WeChat, was called out for refusing to appear before the Australian parliamentary committee. The committee chair, James Paterson, warned that failing to comply could result in adverse recommendations against the app in the committee’s report.

“Compelling evidence has been put to the committee by expert witnesses that WeChat engages in surveillance, censorship, and foreign interference on its platform,” said Paterson.

With an estimated user base of 1 million people in Australia, WeChat does not have an Australian presence and thus cannot be compelled to speak to the committee. Unlike TikTok, WeChat is not covered by a blanket restriction from federal government devices, despite similar data collection and security concerns.

The Australian government’s ongoing scrutiny of Chinese-owned social media apps underscores the growing concerns about data privacy and national security. It remains to be seen what further measures will be taken to safeguard user data and how these platforms will adapt to comply with future data regulations.

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