Facebook, Google and others clash with Hong Kong over new data law

6 Jul 2021

Image: © 昊 周/Stock.adobe.com

A trade group for large tech firms said that Hong Kong’s new anti-doxxing law could make doing business in the city untenable.

Big Tech has opened a new front against policymakers. This time in Hong Kong.

Several major tech firms are privately raising red flags over a proposed data protection law change in the city that they say is overreaching.

The law is being updated to address doxxing – the disclosure of someone’s personal details online without their consent. Lawmakers said the practice became widespread after the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Protesters posted details about police officers that had removed their identifying badges from their uniforms. Likewise, protesters found their details posted online as well by opponents.

Asia Internet Coalition, a Singapore-based trade group that represents Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, wrote to Hong Kong’s data protection authority over the planned changes to data protection laws.

In the letter, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, it said that the companies may have to restrict or remove their services in Hong Kong.

China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong has become a source of concern for tech companies.

The city has long been a refuge for western companies to base Asian headquarters to target the Chinese market without being physically within China’s jurisdiction. Several companies have based staff and servers in the city for this purpose.

The trade group raised concern over sanctions like fines and arresting Hong Kong-based employees if a company is found in violation of the rules.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade,” the letter said.

The group also said that the law is overly broad in its definition of doxxing.

“The proposed anti-doxxing provision does not take into account legitimate situations where personal data may be disclosed without the data subject’s consent,” it said.

The gradually changing situation in Hong Kong since protests kicked off in 2019 has forced Big Tech to reconsider its relationship with the city. Most notably, after a new security law was passed, Google said it would not respond to data request from authorities in Hong Kong.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin