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TikTok is quitting the Hong Kong market over free speech concerns

TikTok says it’s pulling out of the Hong Kong market in the wake of China’s controversial new law that requires internet companies to hand over user data to local authorities. As per Reuters, the video-sharing platform, which is owned by a China-based startup called Bytedance, will exit the app stores “within days.”

“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” a TikTok spokesperson told Reuters.

TikTok was originally designed as a more global spinoff for regions outside Mainland China. In China itself, Bytedance offers a largely similar short-form video-sharing app called Douyin. Bytedance, at the moment, has no plans to bring Douyin to Hong Kong, the spokesperson added.

While TikTok doesn’t have a significant presence in Hong Kong with reportedly 150,000 users last year, it still is a critical setback for a company that lost its biggest market, India a week ago. The video-sharing app’s decision to leave Hong Kong comes just days after it was banned in India, which is home to roughly a quarter of its users, over data privacy concerns among dozens of other Chinese apps.

TikTok said that the company “hasn’t shared any information of its users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government,” in a statement at the time.

The announcement also falls at a time when TikTok is increasingly trying to distance itself from its Chinese roots. That relation has invited close scrutiny for the video-sharing app around the world. In the United States, TikTok use has been blocked in several government agencies including the navy and army, citing similar security concerns.

In an attempt to allay these concerns and appease authorities outside of Mainland China, TikTok has established several new offices over the past year and roped in former Walt Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its CEO.

The new security law, which has put into effect last week on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese control, stifles free speech and will potentially allow China to bring its longstanding punitive internet firewalls to Hong Kong. In addition to giving authorities the power to take down internet posts, the law can even land employees of tech companies in jail if they refuse to comply with requests for user data.

Over the past few days, tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter said they’re suspending reviews of the Hong Kong government’s request for user data as they review the impact and details of the new law.

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