- "We have decided to stop operating the TikTok application in Hong Kong in view of recent events."
- Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News on Monday that the United States is considering banning social media applications from China.
- Last week, India announced a ban on mobile apps for 59 Chinese companies, including TikTok.
According to news sources, the short video app TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, said that the company will withdraw from the Hong Kong market within a few days. This is the latest social media or technology company to respond to Hong Kong’s new national security law.
A TikTok spokesperson said, in response to a Reuters question on Monday, “we have decided to stop operating the TikTok application in Hong Kong in view of recent events.” However, he did not directly mention the Hong Kong National Security Act.
TikTok has previously stated that it will not comply with any requests from the Chinese government to censor content or access TikTok user data, and has never been asked to do so. However, the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law issued this time clearly exposes Internet companies to new challenges.
Article 9 of the National Security Law stipulates that “for schools, social organizations, media, and networks that involve national security, the Hong Kong SAR Government shall take necessary measures to strengthen publicity, guidance, supervision, and management.”
Fu Jinghua, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s News and Media Research Center, pointed out that there is a clear need to regulate media and Internet companies. He believes that “under the Hong Kong National Security Act, companies operating in Hong Kong may be required to provide [user] information.”
If companies do not cooperate, it will be regarded as a violation of national security laws, but if they hand over user information, it will violate the company’s commitment and internationally accepted data and privacy protection principles.
“Some Internet companies that have a business in Hong Kong now see a danger,” Fu Jinghua said. “There may be some legal risks in Hong Kong, which are different from the laws and human rights requirements they have to comply with elsewhere.”
“It is Still a Chinese company”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News on Monday that the United States is considering banning social media applications from China, like TikTok. Some US congressmen have been worried about the way TikTok processes user data, and are concerned about the company’s cooperation with the Chinese intelligence service.
Last week, India announced a ban on mobile apps for 59 Chinese companies, including TikTok. It is the only social media application that has stepped out of China and has won users internationally. Its success has benefited from its cut with the Chinese market.
The same video application, Douyin, and its “international version,” TikTok, the parent company of ByteDance in mainland China, are actually two completely independent companies. TikTok’s design prevents mainland Chinese netizens from logging in, and the applicable regulations, such as using personal data, are also different from those of China and are aimed at the international user market.
Now, however, it seems that this strategy has not always worked. Fu Jinghua pointed out:
“Under the current contradiction between China and many countries, TikTok in the eyes of many people is still a company closely related to China. Although the company’s structure is separate, it will still be regarded as a Chinese company. It contradicts other international laws and regulations.”
Douyin’s Entry into Hong Kong
According to data from the analysis company Sensor Tower, as of the end of the first quarter of this year, TikTok had more than 2 billion downloads through the Apple and Google App Stores worldwide. Reuters quoted an insider as saying that the Hong Kong region is a very small loss-making market for the company. Last August, TikTok’s report data showed that it had 150,000 users in Hong Kong.
A ByteDance spokesman said that the company does not intend to push Douyin to the Hong Kong market at this time. However, another informed source quoted by Reuters said that there are more Douyin users in Hong Kong than TikTok, and users in Mainland China can download them in the Mainland or by switching accounts.
“Douyin has many users in Hong Kong and will continue to serve local users,” Zhang Nan, CEO of ByteDance China, said in a statement.