Politics with Michelle Grattan: Cyber expert Lesley Seebeck on TikTok’s future in Australia

The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill to force TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, to either sell TikTok to a non-Chinese company or face a ban in the US.


  • Michelle Grattan

    Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

While the measure won’t come into effect until the American Senate agrees, it has re-engaged a debate over TikTok’s risk to national security, as well as its impact on young people and the implications for free speech if there was a ban.

The Albanese government has flagged it won’t blindly follow the US action but instead will rely on advice from its security agencies.

The government, however, earlier banned TikTok from official devices.

Lesley Seebeck, former CEO of the Cyber Institute, Australian National University, and former chief investment and advisory officer at the Digital Transformation Agency, joins us to discuss the concerns about TikTok.

On the security implications, Seebeck offers some advice

I think, certainly, banning on the official devices is worthwhile. I’d also strongly recommend that any journalists or anyone that may feel that they’re of interest to the Chinese state also think twice about having TikTok on their phones.

While the American bill offers TikTok an out if it is sold to a non-Chinese company, Seebeck says that is unlikely to happen,

The problem is that China has made it clear that it will not sell it […] which tells you a lot about the fact that China sees this as a strategic asset […] This is very sensitive technology that would be handed over.

On why there’s so much concern around China owning TikTok,

If you looked at China 20 years ago, we would be much more comfortable because it was not the place it is now becoming – more and more authoritarian and assertive under XI Jinping. Things like the national security laws are deeply concerning – the one that’s just passed in Hong Kong – [they] give us a sense of what could be exerted extraterritoriality.

Seebeck highlights why TikTok’s data collection differs from that of other platforms like Facebook.

People often say, well, TikTok’s collecting data, but so does Facebook and all the rest. But it’s a different way of doing things, because what drives TikTok is the algorithm and that real time responsiveness, which makes it so attractive.

What TikTok does, it’s a constant refresh of data to drive that algorithm. So every time you click on a video […] or you might be following an influencer, and they change, it’s this constant interaction. So the data they’re collecting allows a lot more granularity and a lot more sense about what you might do.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

/Courtesy of The Conversation. View in full here.