A number of big social media companies in the US are suspending processing demands for user data from Hong Kong authorities. As reported by Tech Crunch the likes of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp will no longer provide user data at the request of the Hong Kong government.
This is in response to the controversial Beijing national security imposed upon Hong Kong. The companies have said they will be pausing processing data demands whilst they figure out the implications of the new law.
Social media companies pause help for Hong Kong police
A spokesperson for Facebook had a statement to clarify the company's position on the matter. It pointed out that the company would pause processing demands until it had worked out the minutia of the law “including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts”. This position also applies to WhatsApp.
Android Central has reported that the vagueness of the law is what has compelled companies to take this stance. Such a murky understanding of the implications of the new law is what is concerning social media companies right now.
Twitter also had a statement on the topic which broadly echoes Facebook's position. It said, "our teams are reviewing the law to assess its implications, particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague". Messaging app Telegram also said it would be pausing process data requests.
For a long time, Hong Kong has been seen as an approachable outpost in Asia for social media companies. Although, somewhat under the control of China, Hong Kong saw much greater freedoms compared to the mainland.
However, this new national security law which followed mass protests in Hong Kong changes a lot of that. It undermines pretty much any protections Hong Kong nationals had. It also removes provisions for authorities to require a court order before it can demand data.
This is a strong stance from social media companies. Especially from Facebook given how much trouble it has found itself in with regards to data breaches. So much so that this month the company is having to respond to an advertiser boycott of its platform.
Companies may be forced to comply
However, it does look like social media companies may not have much choice but to comply with the new law. It is likely to further put these tech companies on notice with China and its security laws.
However, if the companies want to continue operating in Hong Kong they may have to conform to the new standards.
Tech and social media companies' relationship with China and other countries has been a problem for a while. These companies need to strike a fine balance between upholding their standards and continuing to operate globally.
How this plays out over the coming weeks and months could shape a lot of how this sector operates in the future.