Facebook, Google and Microsoft stop processing Hong Kong data requests

Move follows the implementation of a new security law that criminalises protests

Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter have suspended the processing of user data requests from the Hong Kong government following the implementation of a new security law that criminalises protests.

Facebook, whose services are blocked in mainland China, is known to work with local law enforcement authorities and follow local laws. However, in an unprecedented decision, it announced that it would stop sharing user data with Hong Kong authorities until it finalises a “human rights” investigation.

The decision also applies to Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram.

A Facebook spokesperson called the freedom of expression “a fundamental human right”, adding that the company will “support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions”. 

“We have a global process for government requests and in reviewing each individual request, we consider Facebook’s policies, local laws and international human rights standards,” they said.

Twitter, which is also allowed to operate in Hong Kong but not in the mainland, will also stop processing requests, with a spokesperson stating that the company has “grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law".

Microsoft said the company will not be responding to data requests while it examines the new law. The company said that it “typically received only a relatively small number of requests from Hong Kong authorities, but we are pausing our responses to these requests as we conduct our review”.

This comes days after Google said that it had also suspended processing any new data requests. According to the tech giant, the Hong Kong government requested data from Google users 105 times in 2019 alone.

Communications app Telegram was one of the first tech firms to announce that it would be pausing its cooperation with the Hong Kong police. On Sunday, the company told the Hong Kong Free Press that “Telegram does not intend to process any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city".

"We understand the right of privacy of our Hong Kong users," the company added.

According to Reuters, a TikTok spokesperson revealed that the company is to exit the Hong Kong market within days. “In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” they said.

The news comes weeks after Zoom announced that it is developing technology which will make it possible to block users based on their geographical location, having recently suspended three user accounts at the request of the Chinese government. 

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