TikTok says it will exit Hong Kong market in days

TikTok is owned by China-based ByteDance.
TikTok is owned by China-based ByteDance.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - TikTok said it will exit the Hong Kong market within days, a spokesman told Reuters late on Monday (July 6), as other technology companies including Facebook Inc have suspended processing government requests for user data in the region.

The short-form video app owned by China-based ByteDance has made the decision to exit the region following China's establishment of a sweeping new national security law for the semi-autonomous city.

"In light of recent events, we've decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong," a TikTok spokesman said in response to a Reuters question about its commitment to the market.

The company, now run by former Walt Disney Co executive Kevin Mayer, has said in the past that the app's user data is not stored in China.

TikTok has also said previously that it would not comply with any requests made by the Chinese government to censor content or for access to TikTok’s user data, nor has it ever been asked to do so. 

The Hong Kong region is a small, loss-making market for the company, one source familiar with the matter said.

Last August, TikTok reported it had attracted 150,000 users in Hong Kong.  Globally, TikTok has been downloaded more than 2 billion times through the Apple and Google app stores after the first quarter this year, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower. 

The source said the move was made because it was not clear if Hong Kong would now fall entirely under Beijing’s jurisdiction.  

TikTok was designed so it could not be accessed by mainland China. That was part of a strategy to appeal to a more global audience. 

ByteDance operates a similar short video sharing app called Douyin in China.  Although there are no current plans to introduce Douyin to the Hong Kong market, a ByteDance spokesman said, the app already has a sizeable audience in the Asian financial centre as Chinese on the mainland travel and stay in Hong Kong.

TikTok's move comes as Facebook, Google and Twitter said on Monday they had suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong.

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, said in a statement it was "pausing" reviews for all of its services "pending further assessment of the National Security Law".

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, and Twitter said they suspended their reviews of data requests from Hong Kong authorities immediately after the law went into effect last week.

Twitter cited "grave concerns" about the law's implications.

Google said it would continue reviewing Hong Kong government requests for removals of user-generated content from its services.

 
 

Twitter declined to comment, while Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Social networks often apply localised restrictions to posts that violate local laws but not their own rules for acceptable speech.

Facebook restricted 394 such pieces of content in Hong Kong in the second half of 2019, up from eight in the first half of the year, according to its transparency report.

Tech companies have long operated freely in Hong Kong, a regional financial hub where Internet access has been unaffected by the firewall imposed in mainland China, which blocks Google, Twitter and Facebook.

 
 

Apple said on Monday it does not receive requests for user content directly from the Hong Kong government. Instead, it requires the authorities there to submit requests under a mutual US-Hong Kong legal assistance treaty.

The US Department of Justice receives the requests and reviews them for "legal conformance", Apple said. "We're assessing the new law, which went into effect less than a week ago, and we have not received any content requests since the law went into effect," Apple said in a statement.