In the wake of an existing ban on TikTok, an Australian Senate committee has recommended WeChat be banned from all Australian government devices. The move comes amid concerns that WeChat poses national and personal security risks and suggests a nationwide ban on both apps may be considered.
According to reporting by the Associated Press, James Paterson, chair of the Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, said on Wednesday the report’s recommendations would make Australia a more difficult target for the serious foreign interference risks that he says the nation faces. The full report can be found here.
“It tackles both the problems posed by authoritarian-headquartered social media platforms like TikTok and WeChat and Western-headquartered social media platforms being weaponized by the actions of authoritarian governments including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” Paterson told reporters.
WeChat is owned by ByteDance. It’s a hugely popular Chinese app. It functions as a social media app, payment gateway and gaming platform on top of its core messaging functionality. TikTok is owned by Tencent, a company well known for its gaming investments and subsidiaries, including Riot games and Epic Games.
As Tencent and ByteDance are Chinese headquartered companies, they fall under the purview of the Chinese government, which means apps are subject to censorship protocols and the requirement to share data with Chinese authorities. These provisions make foreign governments understandably nervous.
Australia is far from the only country to consider or implement bans. TikTok is banned from government devices in many European countries, a majority of US states, and Canada among others. It’s completely banned in India.
The relationship between Australia and China is generally one of engagement and co-operation, but in recent years has become more volatile. China is Australia’s largest trading partner but concerns over its influence in Australian domestic affairs are rising. China and Australia’s overlapping spheres of influence, and concerns over human rights issues, remain potential flashpoints.
As China’s global influence rises, and its tech sector continues to develop, it’s hard to see anything other than a rise in tensions with the west. The increased banning of Chinese software is just one part of the developing technology conflict. Efforts to shore up domestic chip production and restrict sales of high tech items to China are just part of what is developing into a 21st century cold war. That’s if we’re not there already.