TikTok has been asked to allay concerns about user privacy after an alarming report that should spark fear among millions of Australian users.
TikTok has been asked to explain whether its Australian users have shared their data with its China-based operations.
Liberal Senator James Paterson has written to TikTok Australia executives Lee Hunter and Brent Thomas after the company’s CEO confirmed that employees based in China had access to US user information.
In the letter, he asked for clarification as to whether Australian user data was accessible or had been viewed in the past, and questioned whether parent company ByteDance could deny a request from the Chinese government to hand over information.
“I would be grateful for any clarification you can provide on these matters,” the opposition’s cybersecurity spokesman wrote.
“Noting in particular your letter to Members of the Australian Parliament dated 13 July 2020, in which you stated that ‘TikTok’s Australian user data is stored in Singapore and the United States’ and that ‘We have never provided TikTok user data to the Chinese government We wouldn’t do that if we were asked.”
Senator Paterson cited a report in BuzzFeed News stating that US consumer data was repeatedly consulted by business engineers in China.
TikTok is the first social media hit to come out of China and has over a billion active users worldwide. The US is the largest market.
Last week, CEO Shou Zi Chew tried to reassure nine US senators that the company was working on a definitive agreement with the Biden administration to “completely protect user data.”
The letter came after the BuzzFeed report raised questions about the accessibility of US consumer information.
It acknowledged that China-based employees have access to US user data, such as public videos and video comments, subject to “a series of robust cybersecurity checks” overseen by a US-based security team.
Mr Chew said the data has not been shared with Chinese government officials.
It comes two years after a US national security panel ordered Beijing-based ByteDance to divest TikTok over fears that data would be passed on to the government under China’s national security laws.
The law was a key consideration in the Turnbull government’s decision to block telco Huawei from Australia’s 5G network.
TikTok was the third most downloaded app in Australia in 2021 with an estimated reach of more than seven million people.