TikTok admits Aussie user data can be accessed by employees in China

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A TikTok executive has revealed that the social media giant's Chinese employees can access Australian user data.

The revelation came yesterday as part of a parliamentary committee into foreign interference via social media. Australia recently joined the likes of the US, UK and Canada in banning the use of TikTok on government-owned devices, citing concerns that the Chinese government has a stake in Douyin (China's version of TikTok).

James Paterson, Liberal senator and committee chair, questioned TikTok data security chief Will Farrell on how many times the app's China-based staff had accessed Australian users' data. Farrell was unable to provide exact numbers, but did admit that it has happened in the past.

However, Farrell explained that employees only have the minimum amount of access required by their job role, and that anyone seeking user data needed to provide a business case.

"Employees can’t get access without a clear justification and levels of approval," Farrell told the committee.

Senator Paterson later grilled TikTok Australia's general manager, Lee Hunter, over allegations that the company had inappropriately accessed user data in an effort to identify journalists' sources.

Hunter admitted that "serious misconduct" from "rogue employees" had indeed occurred, but that those staff members had since been let go.

hand holding an iphone with the tiktok app loaded

Staying safe on TikTok

Though the safety of TikTok user data is still in question, it hasn't stopped the app from exploding in popularity in Australia, with the company revealing it had hit 8.5 million local users in June 2023.

So, how can you keep yourself (and your data) safe on TikTok? Here are our top tips:

  1. Open your phone's settings app, find the listing for TikTok, and disallow the app from accessing your contacts, photos, microphone, camera, and anything else you don't want to share. iOS users can also switch off "Allow Tracking", which prevents TikTok from tracking you outside of the app.
  2. Use a third-party tracker blocking app like Do Not Track for iOS and BLOKK for Android. These apps work as firewalls, protecting you and your data from any app or website that attempts to track you.
  3. Change your profile to private, turn off ad personalisation, adjust discoverability settings so your account isn't easy to find, and adjust your "Safety" settings so that no one can download your videos nor can they interact with you unless you approve them as a follower.
Georgia Dixon
Written by
Georgia Dixon
Georgia Dixon has 10 years of experience writing about all things tech, entertainment and lifestyle, with bylines on Reviews.org, 7NEWS, Stuff.co.nz and in TechLife magazine. In her spare time, you'll find her playing games and daydreaming about good food, wine, and dogs.

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