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 as its reason. The law, passed last week, was imposed by the Chinese government in Beijing and criminalises calls for cession and collusion with foreign powers within Hong Kong.
According to Reuters, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed that the app will soon be made unavailable for download by someone 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, it said that it would not comply with requests from the Chinese government to censor content or demand user data and has not been asked to provide either so far.
A source familiar with this latest decision said TikTok is unclear whether its platform would fall under the scope of the new national security law that has seen a number of social media users deleting their accounts fearing that they could be prosecuted.
‘You have to follow local policies’
TikTok’s Chinese equivalent called Douyin, also run by ByteDance, is believed to have more users than TikTok in Hong Kong and can be downloaded by those travelling to mainland China. According to Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said 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.”
It 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 law “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”.
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.”
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