Australia should consider extending a ban on TikTok from government devices to include WeChat, a panel of lawmakers said, in the latest move from Canberra to crack down on potential influence linked to Beijing.
A Senate committee urged sweeping changes to Australia’s treatment of major tech firms in its final report released Tuesday. Among proposals are stricter transparency requirements on ownership and content moderation procedures of social media platforms, and potential fines or even bans if they fail to comply.[time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]
Authoritarian states are using Western apps that are banned in their own countries to “undermine us and to shape our decision making in their favor,” according to Senator James Paterson, chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do because there’s been enormous amounts of foreign interference on those platforms,” he said in an interview in Canberra.
Australian Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, in a statement, thanked the committee for its work and said she would consider its recommendations.
Australia has been in the vanguard of Western nations confronting security concerns linked to China and technology, becoming the first country to ban Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from its 5G network in 2018. It announced in April that ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok would be banned from government-issued devices following advice from intelligence and security agencies.
Almost every social media giant appeared before the senate committee apart from WeChat owner Tencent, which submitted written answers. A spokesperson said Tencent was reviewing the committee’s report in detail and was committed to protecting user privacy and safety.
“While we disagree with the depiction of WeChat in the report, we will continue to work with stakeholders in Australia to address any further concerns and ensure Australians can continue connecting with others through WeChat,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Paterson accused Tencent of showing “contempt” for the Australian Parliament by failing to appear before the committee.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at her regular briefing on Tuesday that Paterson “consistently held biases against China” and his hearings had predominantly targeted Chinese companies.