The big picture: It’s only been seven days since China passed a controversial national security law that gives it vast new powers over Hong Kong, but the internet has already changed dramatically for people in the semi-autonomous city.
What type of powers? The law lets mainland Chinese officials operate in Hong Kong for the first time. It also gives Beijing the ability to overrule local laws, and it creates a series of vaguely-worded new crimes, for example making it illegal to incite “hatred” towards the Chinese government. Hong Kong police can censor internet content and track citizens on the web. They is now able to conduct searches without a warrant, force web platforms to take down or block posts, seize electronic records, and conduct surveillance of suspects without court oversight. Companies who don’t comply with these orders may be fined around HK$100,000 ($12,903), and employees can face jail terms of up to half a year.
The fallout: Effectively, this brings Hong Kong in to China’s Great Firewall, a tightly controlled and censored version of the internet that blocks most foreign internet tools and mobile apps. Foreign companies are merely permitted to use if they comply.
Taking a stand: Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Zoom, and WhatsApp all pledged to will not comply with government orders handy over data in Hong Kong on July 6. Apple has said it is “assessing” the situation. On July 7, TikTok said it will withdraw from the location completely. It’s likely that any tech company that refuses to follow local laws will end up being blocked in Hong Kong.
The wider dilemma: Facebook, Google yet others will will have to operate within rules set by the Communist Party of China if they wish to stay in Hong Kong. If they accomplish that, they will likely face a backlash straight back at home amongst their employees and US lawmakers. If they don’t, they lose out on getting any foothold at all within the largest online market in the world. Ultimately, China has plenty of its homegrown alternatives to the united states tech giants—so from its government’s perspective, it has little to get rid of if they withdraw.