Sky News Removes Itself From TikTok, Calls the App a ‘Spy Network’

Sky News Removes Itself From TikTok, Calls the App a ‘Spy Network’
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. head office of TikTok is shown in Culver City, California, U.S., September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Right-leaning news channel Sky News Australia has announced that it would discontinue publishing to the popular Chinese app TikTok in an effort to protect its reporters and audiences from security risks.

Sky called TikTok a “spy network masquerading as a social media platform,” saying the risks of being on TikTok are “far too great for any serious news publisher to ignore” while the gains are “negligible at best.”

The media also criticised other outlets and journalists who reported the platform’s use as a tool for soft power and foreign interference, then later jumped on TikTok themselves. Sky News described TikTok as a “vanity exercise” for media companies who deemed “arbitrary viewership figures” more important than the fact that they “cannot be monetised in any meaningful way.”

The News Corp-owned media agency is one of the first major outlets in Australia to have publicly boycotted TikTok, which has been under heavy scrutiny in the past months for its close ties to the Chinese regime.

“Australians will lose absolutely nothing of substance if media organisations make the right decision and withdraw from this platform. And news organisations will equally suffer little loss,” wrote Sky News Australia digital editor Jack Houghton on Monday.

“While money is not a consideration in our decision, it is also worth noting that apart from the security issues, TikTok is the only developed social media platform to not have a proper commercialisation strategy for content creators.”

The move comes after the U.K state-owned media BBC and a Danish public broadcaster issued guidance for its staff to remove TikTok from company phones. The BBC continued to publish content on the Chinese social media app.

TikTok Surveilled US Journalists

It was not the first time TikTok was deemed an unsafe platform for media organisations. Last year, ByteDance was revealed to have illegally tracked journalists using the platform by obtaining their IP addresses and other user data.

In December 2022, Forbes reported that China-based employees at ByteDance were using TikTok to track their journalists’ physical locations in October. The publication described the effort as a “covert surveillance campaign” designed to counter and suppress leaks from the company.

ByteDance reportedly fired its chief internal auditor, Chris Lepitak, who was responsible for the team which led the campaign. China-based Song Ye, who Lepitak reported to and who answered directly to ByteDance CEO Rubo Liang, resigned over the issue.

The ByteDance probe, known internally as Project Raven, was reportedly launched in response to a Buzzfeed story that found that China-based ByteDance employees repeatedly accessed U.S. user data from TikTok.

“Project Raven involved the company’s Chief Security and Privacy Office, was known to TikTok’s Head of Global Legal Compliance, and was approved by ByteDance employees in China,” the Forbes report said.

“The team that oversaw the surveillance campaign was ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department, a Beijing-based unit primarily responsible for conducting investigations into potential misconduct by current and former ByteDance employees.”

Australian Government Banned TikTok From Government Devices

Sky News’s decision to boycott TikTok followed the decision by Australian Attorney General Mark Dreyfus to ban TikTok from all government-issued devices, citing national security risks.

Dreyfus said in a statement that the ban would come into effect “as soon as practicable.” He said exemptions would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

“After receiving advice from intelligence and security agencies, today I authorised the secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department to issue a mandatory direction under the Protective Security Policy Framework to prohibit the TikTok app on devices issued by Commonwealth departments and agencies,” Dreyfus said.

“The direction will come into effect as soon as practicable.”

However, he noted that possible exemptions will be granted on a “case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigations in place.”

Andrew Thornebrooke and Victoria Kelly Clark contributed to this article.
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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