Chinese-owned short-form video app TikTok announced on Tuesday that it is withdrawing from Hong Kong, the latest technology company to review its involvement in the area after a comprehensive national security law passed by Beijing.
Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is considering banning TikTok and other Chinese apps.
TikTok is owned by Beijing technology giant ByteDance and has sought to show lawmakers in the US and elsewhere that people can trust their personal information.
“In light of recent events, we have decided to shut down operations,”
TikTok has always been intended for the international market. ByteDance is offering users in mainland China a separate version of the platform called Douyin.
The move follows the announcements by some Western technology companies to review their Hong Kong operations under the new national security law signed last week.
Although officials in Beijing and Hong Kong deny this, many in the US, Europe and Hong Kong themselves see legislation as a blow to the freedoms promised to the city when the UK returned its colony to China in 1997.
On Monday, after pro-democratic activists reported that some of their books were no longer available in public libraries, Pompeo said in a statement that the move was “Orwellian” and condemned what he called China’s continued “destruction of free Hong Kong” called.
After the law was passed last week, Google, Twitter and Facebook, which own Instagram and WhatsApp, announced that they would stop sharing information with law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong.
Twitter cited “serious concerns” about the impact of the law.
China sees the new law as necessary for stability in Hong Kong and to stop the protests that have sometimes been violent in the past year.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was asked about TikTok’s decision at a daily meeting on Tuesday.
“We hope that the parties concerned see China’s legitimate rights to safeguard its sovereignty and security in a fair, objective, and rational manner,” he said, and urged them “to be careful and circumspect on issues related to Hong Kong, and not selective to do.” Set up obstacles or politicize the topic. “
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, supported by Beijing, tried to reassure those affected by recent developments in the city.
“Certainly this is not a downfall for Hong Kong,” she said, according to Reuters, at her weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’m sure over time … confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the future of Hong Kong will grow.”
TikTok has become one of the most popular apps in the world, a platform where people, mostly under 30, share wildly creative 15-second videos with music.
However, US and European lawmakers have raised concerns that the app may send data back to China, whose government is classified as an authoritarian regime by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research group that is investigating the problem.
There were also concerns that TikTok censored content that could be critical to China’s well-documented human rights violations and used the social media platform as a starting point to shape Beijing’s image in the eyes of young people around the world.
TikTok has vehemently and repeatedly denied this, stating that it is not influenced by China or any foreign government, and that it has not shared or requested data.
Attempts to convince the world of its trustworthiness are evident in the former Disney manager Kevin Mayer’s hiring as CEO earlier this year.
These security concerns have put TikTok in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, which hit Chinese technology companies hard.
When asked about TikTok in the United States on Monday, Pompeo told Fox News: “We take it very seriously. We will definitely look at it.”
When asked if Americans should continue to download TikTok, he said, “Only if you want your private information to be in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
After the interview with Pompeo, a TikTok spokesman denied that the company was influenced by China.
“TikTok is managed by an American CEO, with hundreds of security, product and public order executives and executives here in the United States,” said a statement. “We have no higher priority than promoting a secure app experience for our users.”
Last month, teen TikTok users pranked the registration of thousands of ticket requests for Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma – just to keep from appearing and leaving many seats empty.
The United States is not alone. India, which recently clashed with China over a territorial dispute, has banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps, citing similar fears.
Pompeo suggested treating TikTok with the same harsh approach that the White House has taken with two Chinese telecommunications companies, Huawei and ZTE.
“We have been working on this issue for a long time,” he told Fox News, citing both companies as examples of where the US has been tough on them.
The US claims that Huawei devices from Beijing could be used for espionage and that user data could be compromised. Huawei has repeatedly denied these allegations.
Reuters contributed to this report.