Election 2023: Cyber security experts call for action on TikTok as New Zealand election looms

Chinese-owned social media giant TikTok is in the crosshairs of legislators worldwide, with an outright ban in India and a new push from US lawmakers to do the same.

Now Kiwi experts say it's time for our own Government to take action.

For most of its millions of users, TikTok is just the internet's front page. But to governments globally, it's becoming a target.

India has completely banned the app while in the US, the Republican chair of a new committee on China has described it as "digital fentanyl".

"This is the first major app controlled by China that has become really popular in the West and that brings forward a bunch of concerns about data sovereignty and the upcoming great power conflict we find ourselves in between the West and China," CyberCX executive director of security testing and assurance Adam Boileau said.

Launched in 2016, TikTok ballooned to more than 3 billion downloads by 2021. It has an estimated 1.4 million users in New Zealand who spend an average of an hour and a half on it every day.

But critics are most concerned about TikTok's ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

"Any software or indeed hardware manufactured and controlled by China is at the will of the Chinese Communist Party. They can make them do things that suit China's interests rather than the West," Boileau said.

TikTok admits user data can be accessed by authorities in China but said it is only under "strict controls" and on an "as-needed basis".

Last year Parliamentary Services advised MPs here not to use the app on any official devices, but experts said they should be doing more.

"This is the sort of platform that could influence the outcome of an election... because they're able to control what we're thinking about and what we're believing by what gets pushed at us," warned Gorilla Tech CEO Paul Spain.

"If I had to choose, it's a social network I would feel more comfortable wasn't operating within New Zealand."

However the Government said a ban isn't on the agenda.

But with an election looming, the question of who really controls what over a million Kiwis watch online every day will only grow more pressing.