The Big Tech response to the Hong Kong security law

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Hong Kong is now just over a week into passing its new security law, conceived in light of the many months of anti-government protests in the region. The new law, although notably vague in its key provisions and definitions of crime, makes one thing particularly clear: the challenging of Chinese authorities will not be taken lightly.

This move is part of China's efforts to control the semi-autonomous city, and it ultimately gives Beijing the power to better quash political dissent against the ruling Chinese Communist Party. With more at stake than ever before, more despair is in the protest atmosphere. However, the unrest surrounding the new law is not exclusive to China versus Hong Kong protesters.

The security law also gives authorities the power to punish and fine internet companies if they do not comply with data requests. What's more, they can even jail employees at the company for six months if noncompliance occurs. Given that the new law applies across the world, businesses will potentially be faced with having to make a choice: share data of users writing from outside of Hong Kong, or surrender an employee for a jail sentence.

However, this is not the only dilemma Big Tech is encountering. Another conundrum is this: comply with Hong Kong, but potentially anger the West for doing so, or depart from the region entirely. Should they choose the latter, then they will lose opportunities, as well as the network of people, within the city.

The tech giant stance

With no easy answer at hand, a data request pause has taken place while businesses get their bearings. Some of the biggest names in technology have suspended data processing demands from Hong Kong authorities, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, and Microsoft's LinkedIn. This is in direct response to the security law, which isn't shy in how it incriminates those who are vocal about Hong Kong's autonomy. For many of these businesses, the new security law does not comply with its own free speech policies. On that note, these businesses are noticeably not speaking publicly about the matter to avoid being centred in the fray.

The succession of tech giants singing the same tune comes as potentially an all-time first, as Chinese policy has never been under scrutiny in this way. For these businesses, they are pausing for evaluation, and, most likely, to see how the rest of the world will respond before moving forwards.

TikTok, on the other hand, will be exiting Hong Kong entirely within a matter of days, citing “recent events” as the reason for doing so.

You may have noticed yourself that one name in particular is missing from those named. Apple, which has the most business in China, is said to be evaluating the Hong Kong security law at the time of writing, but pressure is indeed mounting for its stance to be made clear.

For now, businesses have no choice but to walk on eggshells until an international consensus is met. More is undoubtedly yet to come.