Australian Coalition targets China-owned apps TikTok, WeChat and Didi over data harvesting fears

Chinese-owned apps TikTok, Didi and WeChat are being targeted by the Coalition over concerns they may be harvesting users’ data which could be used for foreign interference.

The Opposition is seeking to revive its Online Privacy Bill and has accused the Albanese government of failing to take the issue seriously enough.

Opposition communications spokeswoman Sarah Henderson said the vast majority of TikTok’s 7 million Australian users were teenagers or young adults.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact that this is having on Australian children and this is why action from the Albanese government is so urgent,” she told reporters at Parliament House on Monday.

Senator Henderson said there was also evidence of Australian WeChat users being targeted and “effectively coerced” into transferring their data and personal information to servers based in China.

Opposition cyber security spokesman James Paterson has referred TikTok and DiDi to the federal privacy watchdog – the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner – for investigation.

Senator Paterson said while all social media companies collected information on their users, those headquartered in authoritarian countries were of particular concern because they were subject to their national security laws.

“That includes TikTok, but also WeChat, Didi the ride sharing app and many others,” he told 2GB Radio on Monday.

“And because they are subject to those intelligence laws, that means that the employees or (the) company can be required to co-operate with Chinese intelligence agencies and provide information or material on Australian users, which is a very serious national security challenge.”

Senator Paterson said there was a big difference between having Facebook, Twitter or Google trying to serve users with advertising “about a particular golf club” and TikTok or WeChat trying to censor, surveil or control.

His comments come after Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil ordered her department to investigate the harvesting of data by TikTok amid growing privacy concerns about the video-sharing app.

Senator Paterson welcomed Ms O’Neil’s decision but said the government needed to take action now.

“That report will not be handed back to the government until early next year,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“And in the meantime, the 7 million users of TikTok, the almost 1 million users of WeChat and the many users of Didi and other apps are exposed and are not protected.”

Senator Paterson said it was too soon to rule out banning TikTok in Australia entirely.

Originally published as Coalition targets TikTok, WeChat and Didi amid growing privacy concerns

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