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TikTok Downplays Chinese Communist Party Links in Australia Hearing

Thuy Ong
·2-min read

(Bloomberg) -- TikTok executives sought to reassure Australian lawmakers on Friday about the security of the app’s data and indicated the reported political affiliations of employees of Chinese parent ByteDance shouldn’t be a concern.

Lee Hunter, general manager of TikTok Australia and New Zealand, told a parliamentary hearing that the app didn’t share the data of Australian users with the government in Beijing. Asked about reports that among ByteDance senior management, 130 were members of the Chinese Communist Party, Hunter said the “political affiliation of any employees does not impact the security of Australian user data.”

While Australia in August ruled the video-sharing app doesn’t pose serious national security concerns and opted against a ban, a panel of lawmakers examining possible political interference through social media called on TikTok to testify.

In a submission letter to the hearing, Hunter said personal data collected from Australian users is stored on servers located in the U.S. and Singapore.

“We have strict controls around security and data access,” the letter dated Sept. 18 said. “TikTok has never shared Australian user data with the Chinese government, nor censored Australian content at its request.”

Both TikTok and WeChat, which is owned by China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd., have been labeled national security threats by the Trump administration. The White House is looking to force a sale of TikTok to U.S. companies on the grounds the app could allow China’s government to gain access to personal data from millions of Americans.

Hunter was asked by Senator Nick McKim if he considered TikTok to be bound by articles in China’s national intelligence law that requires intelligence cooperation. Hunter said he wasn’t familiar with the articles, adding “we do not share with the Chinese government.”

TikTok says teams that moderate content on the app are based across 20 countries, and none are in China. Australia’s moderators are based in the Philippines and the U.K, Hunter said.

When asked about content moderation in regards to Uighur Muslims, he said searching those terms on the social network would produce a wide range of content. TikTok controversially suspended one user last year who was critical of the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang.

TikTok will likely be called back to testify to the Australian hearing again before the end of the year.

(Corrects to show Hunter was responding to an assertion of CCP membership among senior ByteDance management)

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