The popular video app TikTok announced on Monday it will leave the Hong Kong market in the coming days following China’s imposition of a new “national security” law severely limiting the city’s freedoms.
“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” a TikTok spokesman told Reuters.
The news comes amid growing concern that the app, now run by former Walt Disney executive Kevin Mayer and owned by the Beijing-based technology firm ByteDance, has its data stored in China and accessible to its communist regime. The company has repeatedly insisted that it would never hand over any data nor comply with any requests from Beijing to censor its content. Chinese law prevents it from refusing to do so.
TikTok’s decision to leave Hong Kong follows last week’s imposition of a “national security” law by China’s National People’s Congress that grants Beijing sweeping new powers. Other major technology firms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Google, and Telegram have all recently confirmed their intention to make changes to their operations in Hong Kong in light of the new law.
Under the new legislation, “terrorism,” “secession,” “subversion of state power,” and colluding with foreign governments are criminalized and punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison. Critics say the law, which passed with no input from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, is the most serious undermining of the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement since the British handed over Hong Kong in 1997.
Despite concerns about its data collection, TikTok has become a global phenomenon over the past few years, acquiring an active user base of nearly one billion people. It allows people to share 15- to 60-second videos of themselves doing everything from carrying out pranks to make-up tutorials.
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed to Fox News host Laura Ingraham that he was looking at banning the app in the United States and urged viewers only to use it “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you, the United States will get this one right too,” he said. “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at.”
Last week, the government of India banned TikTok and 58 other apps Chinese-developed apps following deadly clashes between his military and Chinese forces over the long-running Sino-Indian border dispute.
In a press release, India’s Ministry of Information declared that “in view of the emergent nature of threats [the ministry] has decided to block 59 apps … engaged in activities … prejudicial to [the] sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state, and public order.”