SYDNEY, April 4 (Reuters) - The Australian government said on Tuesday it will remove TikTok from all federal government-owned devices over security concerns, becoming the latest U.S. allied country to initiate action against the Chinese-owned video app.
The move underscores growing worries that China's government could use the Beijing-based company, owned by ByteDance Ltd, to harvest users' data to advance its political agenda, undermining Western security interests.
It risks renewing diplomatic tensions between Canberra and Beijing that have eased somewhat since the Labor government led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese returned to power in May.
The ban will come into effect "as soon as practicable", Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement, adding that exemptions would only be granted on a case-by-case basis and with appropriate security measures in place.
With Australia's ban, all members of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network - which consists of Australia, Canada, the United States, Britain and New Zealand - have banned the app from government devices. France, Belgium and the European Commission have announced similar bans.
The Australian newspaper late on Monday reported Albanese had agreed to a government-wide ban on the use of TikTok after the completion of a review by the Home Affairs department.
Dreyfus confirmed the federal government had recently received the "Review into Foreign Interference through Social Media Applications" report and that its recommendations remained under consideration.
TikTok said it was "extremely disappointed" by Australia's decision, calling it "driven by politics, not by fact".
"There is no evidence to suggest that TikTok is in any way a security risk to Australians and should not be treated differently to other social media platforms," TikTok's Australia and New Zealand General Manager Lee Hunter said in a statement.
In 2018, Australia banned China's Huawei from providing equipment during the rollout of 5G network in the country, riling its largest trading partner. Ties soured further after Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of COVID-19.
China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities.
Lawmakers can still use TikTok on their personal phones but some, including federal Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews, have decided to delete their TikTok accounts.
Victoria will also ban the app on state government-owned phones, a government spokesperson told Reuters.
TikTok has come under pressure as more countries ban it on government-owned phones. U.S. lawmakers last month grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew during a testimony before Congress about potential Chinese influence over the platform, and the app's influence on children.
TikTok has said the administration of President Joe Biden demanded its Chinese owners divest their stakes or face a potential U.S. ban.