Social media app TikTok announced Monday night that it is pulling out of Hong Kong entirely in response to draconian new security laws imposed on the city by the mainland government.
“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” the company said in a statement provided to Axios.
The new law, enacted last week an hour before the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese control, effectively ends the special legal status the city has enjoyed since 1997 under the “one country, two systems” policy. Among other things, it criminalizes activities broadly defined as secessionist, subversive or terrorism that include advocating for democracy or criticizing the authoritarian government in Bejing. Worse, the law applies even to acts outside of Hong Kong by people in other jurisdictions who are not residents of the city. In other words, critics of China could face arrest even if they visit Hong Kong or end up on a connecting flight.
It also punishes overseas organizations that comply with U.S. sanctions.
More relevantly to TikTok and other tech companies, the law compels companies doing business in Hong Kong to make all user data available to authorities without a warrant. In effect, it extends the authoritarian laws of mainland China to Hong Kong. U.S. companies Facebook, Twitter and Google said Monday they were halting processing of data requests from the Hong Kong government as they evaluate the new laws. The companies are already banned in mainland China; it’s not clear how the new law will impact foreign companies that operate in Hong Kong.
TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, but Bytedance has attempted to make a clear distinction between its China-based social media companies and TikTok, which only operates outside of mainland China. In particular, TikTok says it will not share data with the Chinese government, a stance the new law likely makes impossible.