San Francisco (AFP) – The wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok will no longer work in Hong Kong, its makers said, after a new security law imposed by China gave authorities sweeping powers to police local users.
The new security law has sparked fears for freedom of expression, and internet giants Google, Facebook and Twitter have put a hold on requests for user data from Hong Kong authorities since it came into force.
“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” the Chinese-owned firm told AFP on Monday, becoming the first major social media platform to exit the city since the law was imposed last week.
The company expects to wind down operations in Hong Kong in a matter of days.
TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, had already been in the spotlight over how it collects and uses data, but has repeatedly denied sharing any user information with Chinese authorities.
Beijing said it imposed the new law on semi-autonomous Hong Kong to end the sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that have shaken the city since over a year ago.
It grants the police powers to control and remove online information if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect the data breaches the national security law — reminiscent of internet controls in mainland China.
Internet firms and service providers can be ordered to remove information, and their equipment can be seized.
Companies are also expected to provide identification records and decryption assistance.
Despite concerns about how it collects and shares data, TikTok has become a global sensation with users — especially young people — sharing 15 to 60-second video clips on everything from hair dye tutorials to dance routines and gags about daily life.
While it does not publish such data, TikTok is estimated to have close to a billion users worldwide.
But it has also found itself involved in major diplomatic disputes.
India banned TikTok over national security concerns following a deadly border clash between its soldiers and Chinese forces.
And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington is also looking at banning Chinese social media apps including TikTok over allegations that they are being used to spy on users.
Despite its ownership, TikTok is not available in mainland China, where ByteDance offers a variant called Douyin.