The Victorian government will join the federal government in banning the popular short form video app TikTok in its current form from all government devices citing national security concerns.
The federal and state governments will announce a ban of the app on government-provided phone devices this week once a seven-month-long review of security risks posed by social media platforms is completed.
The announcement comes just two days after Premier Daniel Andrews returned from a surprise visit to China, the state’s largest trading partner.
The visit was pitched a mission to strengthen Victoria’s standing among prospective international students there.
A spokesperson for the state government said it would “work to adopt the federal government’s new restrictions on using TikTok on all government devices”.
“We’ve always said we will follow the Commonwealth’s guidance when it comes to cybersecurity and will now work on implementing these changes across the public service as soon as possible.
“We agree with a nationally consistent approach on these policy settings and that’s what we will get on and deliver.”
The barring of the social media app in Australia follows New Zealand. Its parliamentary service banned TikTok on devices connected to government applications amid growing fears that the app could be used by the Chinese Communist Party for espionage aboard or operations.
The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and European Union have also recently banned the popular app from government devices. India banned TikTok and 117 other apps more than two years ago.
TikTok general manager Australia and New Zealand, Lee Hunter, said the company was extremely disappointed by the ban, which they saw as being driven by politics, not fact, as reported by News Corp on Monday night.
“We are also disappointed that TikTok, and the millions of Australians who use it, were left to learn of this decision through the media, despite our repeated offers to engage with government constructively about this policy,” Hunter said.
“Again, we stress that there is no evidence to suggest that TikTok is in any way a security risk to Australians and should not be treated differently to other social media platforms.”
A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, whose department is conducting the social media review examining TikTok, said last month the aim of the assessment into the social media giant was to keep the country safe from international security threats.
“The review currently under way into social media use has a wide remit to explore ways of keeping Australians safe and we’ll consider all its recommendations,” the spokesman said.
The Biden administration went as far as ordering its foreign shareholders to sell the company or face a total ban from operating in the US.
US Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr – one of four members of the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing American communications law – said regulation of the video-sharing app ends in one of two ways: “A ban on TikTok or the complete divestiture from any entity beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.”
In a submission to the Senate’s inquiry into foreign interference through social media, Carr wrote: “While I have a base level of concern involving social media platforms in general, there is a unique set of national security concerns when it comes to this app.
“At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data. Indeed, TikTok’s own disclosures state that it can collect everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints – which researchers have said might be used in unrelated facial recognition technology – and voiceprints.
“It collects location data as well as draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard. The list of personal and sensitive data it collects goes on from there.
“There are more red flags about TikTok than at a Chinese Communist Party parade,” Carr told and
He also urged Australia to support a ban of the social media platform, as it was “far more alarming than your average app”.
TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has consistently dismissed security fears as being without foundation, which were strengthened by a submission from foreign interference expert John Garnaut last month.
The social media platform insists user data is safe and that it does not moderate content based on any governments’ desires.
A spokesman for TikTok said the bans were based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics.
“We remain committed to working with governments to address any concerns, but ask that we be judged on the facts and treated equally to our competitors.”
The spokesman added that any divestment would not aid national security. “A change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. The best way for the US to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
However, Katherine Mansted, the director of cyber intelligence and public policy at Australian firm CyberCX, said governments were often forced to make decisions on digital security based on future risk.
“In TikTok’s case its parent companies linked to the Chinese government because of China’s authoritarian regime, and China’s very tight laws around sharing data with the government, and that influences how other governments around the world see and evaluate risk,” Mansted said.
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