TikTok privacy breach allegations under spotlight

Concerns social media giant TikTok breached Australian privacy laws through its data harvesting practices are being looked at by the information commissioner.

Dec 28, 2023, updated Dec 28, 2023
Photo: Victor Joly/ABACAPRESS.COM.

Photo: Victor Joly/ABACAPRESS.COM.

Social media giant TikTok is under the spotlight in Australia with the information commissioner delving into allegations of privacy breaches and personal data being siphoned.

The Australian Information Commissioner is inquiring into TikTok’s handling of personal data as well as allegations it has been scraping data without consent from people who don’t even have the app.

Preliminary inquiries will determine whether a full investigation should be launched.

“Strong privacy protections are critical to addressing the privacy risks faced by Australians online,” the commissioner said in a statement on Thursday that confirmed inquiries were being made.

The allegations relate to the use of a tracking tool, known as a pixel, to harvest data including internet history and personal information and scrape information off people who don’t have the social media app installed.

TikTok has denied it has breached privacy laws, saying pixels are used industry-wide and voluntary for advertising clients to use.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has been contacted for comment.

Amid concerns about data harvesting by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and its ties to the Chinese Communist Party, Australia has banned the app from government devices.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson welcomed inquiries being made into the “mass privacy breach”.

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“TikTok’s practices of harvesting the private contact information, browsing history and shopping habits of Australian internet users apparently without consent is deeply concerning and highly likely to be unlawful,” he said.

“Especially troubling is that the data of non-TikTok users is allegedly being collected as part of this scheme.”

Such conduct was unacceptable for any company but “particularly alarming given TikTok is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and is required under China’s intelligence laws to share information”, he added.

Senator Paterson also called on the government to take further legislative action to protect Australians’ data.

Legislation to reform the Privacy Act is expected in 2024.

The information commissioner’s office is also investigating data breaches by Medibank, Singtel Optus and Latitude Financial.

It has also launched Federal Court action against Australian Clinical Labs, alleging the company “seriously interfered with the privacy of millions of Australians by failing to take reasonable steps to protect their personal information”.


Topics: ACCC
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