TikTok execs say it didn’t take part in security probe into app

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 28 September 2020

TikTok Australia executives have told a Senate committee that they did not engage directly with investigators before the government concluded that the video-sharing app did not pose a security threat to Australians.

Executives, including managing director Lee Hunter and director of public policy Brent Thomas, faced questions from a committee on Friday examining foreign interference in Australia through social media.

They were asked whether the Department of Home Affairs contacted them during a review into the app over security concerns.

“We reached out to a range of federal politicians, including every member of the Australian cabinet. We did have discussions with the relevant ministers’ offices that were in charge of those departments but we were not asked to engage directly with those agencies,” Thomas said.

Executives said although they have since engaged with the department, they first heard about the outcome of the review from media reports.

Committee chair Jenny McAllister described it as “incredible” that the department undertook a review without engaging with the company.

“I think it’s quite incredible that a government department would undertake a security review of an organisation and not request any information or input from them at all,” McAllister said.

The launch of the security review was reported in mid July and the outcome revealed in early August. Prime Minister Scott Morrison cleared the app of a ban, saying that there was “nothing at this point that would suggest to us that security interests are being compromised, or Australian citizens are being compromised.”

However, he did say that the government would continue to watch the app and that user data could potentially be accessed at a “sovereign state level”.

TikTok was also asked about how ByteDance’s proposed deal with Oracle and Walmart in the US would impact TikTok and Australia. Hunter said he couldn’t comment on how the deal would impact Australian operations.

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