TikTok Australia not so keen to share info on bosses
TikTok's Australian directors include a Sydney accountant who has more than 50 company directorships to his name, and two mysterious offshore directors about which little can be found online.
The Chinese company has been on a charm offensive in recent weeks, with its video-sharing app facing the threat of being kicked off app stores in the US by President Donald Trump and a controversy over a live-streamed suicide which appeared in the feeds of children.
While the spectre of being thrown off app stores has abated for now, the company is going to great strides to win the hearts and minds of Australians, this week announcing a new aggressive advertising campaign it says will celebrate "everyday Australians".
General manager Lee Hunter, who is not a director, has been leading the charge to paint TikTok as a harmless, fun platform, saying on his LinkedIn a couple of months ago that "TikTok is a fun, creative, safe and entertaining platform that is, unfortunately, being used by some as a political football''.
"We're an open book - We welcome an open and transparent dialogue with policymakers and authorities to ensure TikTok remains a safe, fun and creative platform.''
But the app has security professionals, and the US Government, concerned with its potential to harvest user data which could then potentially end up in the hands of the Chinese government.
TikTok Australia addressed these concerns in a recent submission to the Senate, saying "We have strict controls around security and data access. As noted in our Transparency Reports, TikTok has never shared Australian user data with the Chinese government, nor censored Australian content at its request.''
The backgrounds of its Australian directors are not particularly transparent however, with its two foreign directors - Chinese-born Canadian citizens whose addresses are listed as in Hong Kong and Singapore - holding other international roles with the company, but keeping a low profile online.
TikTok Australia refused to provide further information about these two directors when contacted this week.
In order to operate legally in Australia, a proprietary company must have one Australian-resident director.
TikTok's sole Australian director is Nick Barwell of French's Forest, NSW, who is a chartered accountant and a principal at McBurney's Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors.
Mr Barwell's bio says he "is responsible for a large number of family groups looking to protect their wealth and provide for their families in the most tax-effective manner'', and "also supports a number of Australian and international business clients dealing with monthly accounting, taxation compliance, internal reporting, payment processing and payroll''.
Mr Barwell does not list his involvement with TikTok, or his numerous other company directorships, on his LinkedIn profile.
Other companies he is involved with include Bushells, Brooks Brothers Australia, and Robert Timms and previously technology firm Mashable.
Overall he is a current director of 58 companies, ASIC records show, however a large number of these companies are related to each other.
Some of Mr Barwell's other current and former directorships or company secretary roles include:
Brooks Brothers Australia, Bushells, FreshFood Australia, Gubagoo Australia, SASOL Petroleum, Nearwater Capital Australia, Robert Timms, Vita-Mix ANZ, Mashable Australia (former director), NTT Security (Australia) (former director).
TikTok Australia's other two directors are Ms Tian Zhao, whose address is listed as being in an upscale part of Singapore, and Zhao Liu, who is listed as living in Hong Kong. Both have no other Australian company directorships.
Both directors have a very low profile online, with Ms Zhao having just 59 connections on LinkedIn and little activity on the platform beyond occasionally sharing information about TikTok and parent company Bytedance.
Ms Zhao is also listed online as a director of TikTok Information Technologies UK.
Australian company records show Ms Zhao as being born in Beijing while companies House documents from the UK, lodged in 2017, state that her nationality is Canadian.
Zhao Liu is listed on the Zoominfo website as "Director, Corporate Development & Ir at ByteDance''.
He is also listed as director and president of TikTok in the US and managing director of TikTok in Germany.
He does not appear to have a LinkedIn profile.
News Corp Australia sent a series of questions to Mr Barwell, asking about his level of involvement in the strategy or day to day running of TikTok Australia, however a response from TikTok corporate affairs did not answer these questions, or a query about further information about the backgrounds of its other directors.
"When TikTok Australia Pty Ltd was established as an Australian business entity in November last year, two Canadian citizens and an Australian were appointed as directors, in line with ASIC regulations and Australian company law,'' a TikTok spokesperson said via email.
"Since then we have founded and significantly scaled our team in the country and brought on Australian leadership. The process is underway to realign our local directorships, as part of our regular reviews of corporate governance structures."
TikTok Australia Pty Ltd is owned by Chinese company Bytedance Ltd, which is based in the Cayman Islands.
Originally published as TikTok Australia not so keen to share info on bosses