A ban on the popular Chinese video app TikTok is ‘inevitable’ in Australia, a leading expert said, after US President Donald Trump announced he will shut down the digital platform over national security concerns.
China is a world leader in data collection, AI and facial recognition software.
The popularity of the social media app has led intelligence agencies across the world to become increasingly concerned about the risks posed by the technology.
One of Australia’s leading China experts, Professor Clive Hamilton told Daily Mail Australia the Communist Party uses the app to keep tabs on anyone who criticises the totalitarian regime.
He fears that users’ personal data is likely being sent to Beijing.
A ban on the popular Chinese video app TikTok is inevitable in Australia, after US President Donald Trump (pictured) announced he will shut down the digital platform in America
‘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.’
Professor Clive Hamilton said it was ‘only a matter of time’ before social media app TikTok was banned in Australia (pictured, women taking a selfie in Sydney on July 22)
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.
Federal Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie (pictured) is calling for Chinese social media apps to be banned
‘TikTok is largely used by teenagers but they’re our future leaders,’ Mr Hastie told the ABC.
‘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.
Scott Morrison (pictured on Thursday) said Chinese social media apps are being monitored amid concerns they are sending Australian users’ personal information back to Beijing
TikTok (pictured) is one of the most popular apps in the world and had 315 million downloads in the first quarter of the year
When asked about TikTok earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people needed to be conscious of where their data was going.
‘We are always very mindful of those risks and we are always monitoring them very, very closely,’ he told 3AW radio.
‘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.’
Although apps like Wechat and Weibo are mostly used by Chinese diaspora, TikTok has become a genuine global phenomenon.
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
The authoritarian state is a world leader in data collection, AI and facial recognition software (pictured, an internet cafe in Qingdao city)
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.
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
While the social media giant only launched its Australian headquarters last month, members of parliament have been calling for the app to be banned due to concerns Chinese government could access user data.
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.
The campaign comes days after the company’s Australian general manager Lee Hunter sent a letter to federal MPs in a bid to alleviate concerns about the app’s connection to China.
‘Contrary to some claims, we are not aligned with any government, political party or ideology. We are a privately owned company, and TikTok is focused on enabling people to make and share creative and fun videos,’ the letter read.
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)
‘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.’
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
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).