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Australia takes its turn to kick TikTok off government kit

Australia has joined the growing list of nations that have decided TikTok represents an unacceptable risk when running on government-owned devices, so has decided not to allow it onto those machines.

Citing “advice from intelligence and security agencies,” attorney-general Mark Dreyfus today announced the national government will “prohibit the TikTok app on devices issued by Commonwealth departments and agencies. The direction will come into effect as soon as practicable.”

Exemptions “will only be granted on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security mitigations in place,” Dreyfus’s announcement adds. Which sounds like the usual provision to ensure that government accounts can continue to post to the platform to reach its immense audience – an inconsistency few governments have addressed.

Australia’s government has hinted it will take this position for weeks, but the decision is still risky. Sino-Australian relations reached a low ebb in recent years, in part because Australia banned Huawei and ZTE from selling kit to local carriers. China sent Australia a list of 14 matters it wanted addressed – including revisiting those bans, which the local embassy suggested were based on “unfounded national security concerns” and implemented to do “the bidding of the US by lobbying other countries.”

The election of a new Australian government in May 2022 saw a thaw in relations, but Beijing always insists that it has no role in the operation of China-headquartered companies and would never invoke laws that allow it to do so.

A recent submission to Australia’s Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, penned by a quartet of experts, asserted that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance cannot be considered a private entity, so entangled with government has it become.

The ban has proven especially awkward for one Australia politician – the premier of the state of Victoria, Dan Andrews – who last week made a low-key (for a politician) visit to China. Andrews today not only banned TikTok on government devices in the state he leads, but quit the platform himself. Doing so means his 100,000 followers will be deprived of his missives. ®