TikTok denies spying on Aussies


Besieged social network TikTok has denied it censored or shared information from thousands of Australian users with the Chinese Government, and claimed it was under "more scrutiny" than any other social network "due to the company's origins".

The video-sharing platform's Australian general manager Lee Hunter made the comments in a submission to Australia's inquiry into Foreign Interference Through Social Media today, just days before the company's executives were due to appear before the Senate committee.

It also comes a day after TikTok narrowly avoided a ban on app downloads in the United States by striking a deal to shift responsibility for its American users to Oracle and Walmart.

The short video-sharing service, popular for everything from dance videos to scathing political commentary, has amassed more than 680 million users worldwide, including more than 1.6 million users in Australia, Roy Morgan estimates.

But TikTok has also been widely criticised over potential national security risks, with Liberal Senator and former army major general Jim Molan pointing to claims that it could be a "data collection service disguised as social media," and Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, chair of the social media inquiry, warning Australians about how the app could use their information.


TikTok's Australian general manager Lee Hunter, left, said the company had received unprecedented scrutiny. Picture: Britta Campion/The Australian
TikTok's Australian general manager Lee Hunter, left, said the company had received unprecedented scrutiny. Picture: Britta Campion/The Australian


"There have been credible reports that TikTok takes more data than its users would expect, and moderates content for reasons that its users may not be comfortable with," she warned.

"We want Australians to have confidence that the only thing to worry about when using TikTok is the quality of their dance moves."

In a statement to the inquiry, Mr Hunter said the company had received more attention than any other social network due to ownership by Chinese firm ByteDance and it did not "want TikTok to be a political football".

But Mr Hunter said TikTok would endeavour to provide more transparency around its operations to address concerns around security issues, and denied it had received requests for users' personal information from Chinese officials.

"To date, we have not received any (mutual legal assistance treaty) requests in respect of Australian user data, nor have we received requests to censor Australian content from, the Chinese Government," he said in the statement.

Under the 2017 Chinese National Intelligence Law, Chinese organisations and citizens are obligated to provide intelligence for government officials who ask for it.


TikTok currently requests access to a user's phone number, email address and contacts, as well as location, camera, microphone and files on their smartphone.

Over the weekend, TikTok narrowly avoided a ban on downloads of its app in the United States after President Donald Trump demanded the company divest its American operations over national security fears.

TikTok has since reached a deal with software firm Oracle and retail chain Walmart that has received "in concept" approval from President Trump.

It's not yet clear how this will affect local users, however, with the company's Australian, New Zealand and Canadian operations initially included in a potential Microsoft deal.

Mr Hunter said TikTok would "provide the Select Committee updates on such changes as and when appropriate".

TikTok executives are due to appear before the Australian Senate on Friday.

Meanwhile, a US judge blocked the government's ban on WeChat downloads, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration had ordered a ban on downloads of the messaging platform WeChat, owned by Chinese technology giant TenCent. The ban has now been suspended.

A California court ruling said it granted a "motion for a nationwide injunction against the implementation" of the government order on WeChat, with the judge citing concerns over free speech.

The order would have slowed WeChat down and made it unusable in the United States for video chats with family and friends, according to experts.

WeChat has around 19 million active daily users in the US.





Originally published as TikTok denies spying on Aussies