Labor wants to ask TikTok how it approaches Australian privacy laws

Wants to know how the popular Chinese social media video app uses individuals' data and what its content moderation policies actually involve.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Despite it being "really fun", Labor Senator Jenny McAllister has raised concerns over TikTok, including that the social media platform isn't entirely transparent about how it approaches Australian privacy laws.

"There are some specific concerns that have been raised by credible sources in recent years about TikTok. The first is that they're not entirely transparent or inadequately transparent about what happens with individual data," McAllister said, speaking on ABC RN Drive on Monday.

"The second is that it's not quite clear what their content moderation policies are. And there are concerns that some of these approaches to moderating content might be inconsistent with Australian values. For example, removing material about Tiananmen Square, or de-prioritising material about Hong Kong protests."

India last month banned the Chinese video-sharing app, along with 59 others, and the US Army in January reportedly banned the use of TikTok due to "security concerns".

There are around 1.6 million Australian users of TikTok, most of them under the age of 25.

"We don't want parents to be worried about TikTok and we don't want kids to have to worry too much about using social media either," she continued. "What's needed is a really clear understanding from the platforms about their approach to privacy and their approach to content moderation.

"We'd like the platforms to come before us and actually talk to us about this issue."

See also: Labor floats jail time as penalty for social media giants that breach Aussie law

McAllister is chairing the current Senate Select Committee inquiry into Foreign Interference Through Social Media. She said she'd like TikTok -- as well as other social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook -- to appear and clarify the record.

"I think that Australians would expect them to appear and I do think that it is in the interest of all of the platforms to be in communication with the Australian public about their approach to these questions," she said.

"They depend on user trust and I think that the inquiry provides a forum in which they can explore and explain how it is they approach censorship. How it is they approach privacy."

Specifically, McAllister said she was interested in understanding how social media platforms approach Australian privacy laws, as well as what kind of disclosure they provide to users on how their data might be used.

"I'd be very interested to understand the ways in which their algorithm chooses to promote some kinds of content and not others," McAllister continued.

"I think increasingly people do understand that social media is a powerful force for good, but it also opens up new vulnerabilities in societies. The social media platforms need to engage with these questions and engage with democratically elected representatives and also the public about how they're approaching it."

TikTok has not provided a submission to the inquiry and neither has Facebook. In Twitter's submission, however, the social media platform said that when it comes to thwarting foreign interference through social media platforms, the issue is a broad geopolitical challenge, not one of content moderation, and that government needs to assume some of the responsibility.


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