TikTok has confirmed that employees in mainland China can access the data of millions of Australian users of the video-sharing app.
Paterson, also the chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, publicized the correspondence on social media.
“TikTok Australia has replied to my letter and admitted that Australian user data is also accessible in mainland China, putting it within reach of the Chinese government, despite their previous assurances it was safe because it was stored in the US and Singapore,” he wrote in a Twitter post on July 12.
“Our security teams minimize the number of people who have access to data and limit it only to people who need that access in order to do their jobs.” Brent Thomas, TikTok’s Australian director of public policy, wrote in reply.
“We have policies and procedures that limit internal access to Australian user data by our employees, wherever they’re based, based on need.”
However, Thomas said, “We have never provided Australian user data to the Chinese government, we have never been asked for Australian user data by the Chinese government, and we would not provide it if we were asked.”
TikTok is a hugely popular short-format video platform that allows users to create, share, and view 15-second videos, often featuring singing, dancing, or comedy. Started in China as “Douyin” in September 2016, it attracted 100 million Chinese users within one year.
The app was relaunched as TikTok internationally in September 2017, attracting dozens of A-list celebrity users and partnerships with the NBA, NFL, and Comedy Central.
By 2020, TikTok reported nearly a billion active users worldwide—less than four years after its launch.
TikTok’s Similar Admission to US LawmakersPaterson’s letter comes after reports in the United States that data of TikTok’s U.S. users can be accessed in mainland China.
U.S. engineers had to rely on their China-based colleagues “to determine how U.S. user data was flowing,” as they aren’t allowed to access the data on their own, according to BuzzFeed.
The news outlet also referred to “one Beijing-based engineer as a ‘Master Admin’” who “has access to everything.”
The detail was confirmed by eight different employees in nine statements.
Chew dismissed the findings from the news report, claiming that they are “incorrect and are not supported by facts.”
In response to a query regarding the disclosure of U.S. data to the CCP, the CEO briefly said that the company hadn’t received such a request and wouldn’t comply if asked.
Call for Albanese Government to Take ActionHowever, Paterson expressed concern that Australian user data could be accessible to the regime in Beijing.
“TikTok denies they would ever hand over data to the Chinese Communist Party, but this is very hard to believe, given their national security laws,” he wrote.
“It’s now time for the Albanese government to wake up and take action on this serious threat to the privacy of 7 million Australian users.”