TikTok to quit Hong Kong in response to national security law

TikTok, the viral Chinese video app, has said it will quit Hong Kong following Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law that has sparked fears over access to user data in the city.

The move by TikTok, which is owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance, came as Microsoft became the latest US tech group to push back against the new restrictions in the semi-autonomous territory.

TikTok, whose decision to quit the Hong Kong market was first reported by Reuters, said in a statement that it had decided to stop operations “in light of recent events”.

Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, said on Tuesday it had joined US peers Facebook, Google and Twitter in temporarily blocking Hong Kong authorities from accessing user data. 

Unlike Facebook and the other platforms, which are largely blocked in the mainland, LinkedIn has thrived in China where it obeys Beijing’s rules. The platform has 50m users in China, making it one of the social networking site’s biggest markets, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft said in a statement that while it typically received only a small number of requests from Hong Kong authorities for user data, it was “pausing our responses to these requests as we conduct our review”. 

Apple, which also operates in greater China and generated $44bn of revenue from the region last year, said it was “assessing” the impact of the new law. 

The collective defiance came as Hong Kong on Monday said publishers, internet service providers and social media groups could face fines and jail terms if they did not comply with orders to take down material deemed illegal or co-operate with police requests.

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, slammed the new law. “The Chinese Communist party’s destruction of free Hong Kong continues,” he said. “With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities — in an Orwellian move — have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP from library shelves, banned political slogans, and are now requiring schools to enforce censorship.”

ByteDance, which is headquartered in Beijing, has long attempted to separate the TikTok app from its mainland operations. In May, the company appointed Kevin Mayer, a former Disney senior executive, as TikTok’s chief executive. 

TikTok, which last year said it only had 150,000 users in the city of almost 7.5m people, did not say if Hong Kong residents would be able to use Douyin, the Chinese version of the video app that can only be downloaded from a Chinese app store by someone on the mainland.

A person familiar with the situation said ByteDance had “no plans to bring Douyin to Hong Kong app stores at this time”. 

TikTok has been dogged by concerns about user privacy, national security and the censorship of content given its Chinese roots. US politicians have worried it could potentially share foreign user data with the Chinese government and criticised its content moderation.

Additional reporting by Patrick McGee in San Francisco

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