Video-sharing app TikTok confirmed on Tuesday that it would cease operating within the Hong Kong market within days amid increasing furore over the region’s new national security law.
The app, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, joins Facebook (FB), WhatsApp, Twitter (TWTR), Google (GOOG), and messaging app Telegram on the list of companies who are making changes to their operations in the semi-autonomous city.
But, despite widespread criticism from social media giants, TikTok will become the first app to fully withdraw from the region.
“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for TikTok said.
Although owned by a Chinese company, TikTok has previously insisted that it would not comply with requests from the Chinese government to censor content or for access to user data, noting that no such requests have ever been made.
The national security law, which was implemented by China despite widespread international protest and condemnation, is expected to curtail rights in Hong Kong, which has enjoyed significantly greater freedoms than mainland China since the region was handed over by the UK in 1997.
Most democracy activists within the city have already eschewed the use of pro-democracy slogans, such as the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
The Chinese government has criticised such slogans, arguing that they are often used by those who favour independence for the region.
Critics have said that the new law erodes the freedoms handed down to the city as part of the “one country, two systems” framework that was part of the 1997 transfer of control.
The departure of TikTok from Hong Kong comes after US secretary of state Mike Pompeo suggested that the US was considering banning Chinese social media apps.
In a Fox News interview, Pompeo said that the Trump administration was “taking this very seriously.”
“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” he said.
“I don't want to get out in front of the president, but it's something we're looking at.”
TikTok’s decision also comes amid the app’s seemingly inexorable rise.
The short-form video app was the second most downloaded app in 2019, beating Facebook, and Facebook-owned Messenger and Instagram.
According to data firm Sensor Tower, TikTok got over 700 million downloads globally last year, while Facebook received just under 700 million downloads.
It was only beaten by Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which received over 850 million downloads due to its unbridled popularity in India.