TikTok to pull app from Hong Kong after passing of national security law

7 Jul 2020

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Some of the biggest names in tech are limiting the Hong Kong government’s access to their platforms – or, in the case of TikTok, pulling out altogether.

China-based ByteDance has announced it will pull its highly popular TikTok app from Hong Kong imminently after the introduction of the new national security law.

The law, passed last week, was imposed by the Chinese government in Beijing. It criminalises calls for cession and collusion with foreign powers within Hong Kong. Its introduction has seen a number of social media users deleting their accounts fearing that they could be prosecuted.

According to Reuters, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed that the app will soon be made unavailable for download and inoperable for current users in Hong Kong.

It’s estimated that there are approximately 150,000 TikTok users in the semi-autonomous region and the platform has confirmed in the past that user data is not stored in China.

Furthermore, TikTok said that it would not comply with requests from the Chinese government to censor content or access user data, nor has the company been asked to provide either so far.

‘You have to follow local policies’

The spokesperson told Reuters that the decision has been made to pull the app as it is unclear whether Hong Kong would now fall entirely under Beijing’s jurisdiction with the new national security law.

Users in mainland China cannot access TikTok and instead use the Chinese equivalent called Douyin, also run by ByteDance. Although Douyin is not available outside of mainland China, it is reported to have more users than TikTok in Hong Kong. This is because the app can be downloaded while in mainland China or by switching accounts.

According to Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, TikTok’s decision was inevitable in its desire to internationalise.

“You have to follow local policies and try not to offend the Chinese government and the public,” he said. “ByteDance’s separation of TikTok from Douyin was the same strategy.”

Social media in Hong Kong

This TikTok news comes as a number of non-Chinese tech companies announced plans to temporarily block Hong Kong law enforcement from accessing user data.

Earlier this week, Facebook said it was to pause requests for user data in the region pending further assessment of the new security law “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”.

The list of companies has since grown to include tech giants such as Google and Twitter, while Apple is reported to be “assessing’ the situation.

In a statement, Apple said: “Apple has always required that all content requests from local law enforcement authorities be submitted through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in place between the US and Hong Kong.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic