Tikking time bomb?
At midnight on June 30 1997, Hong Kong officially reverted to Chinese sovereignty, ending 156 years of British rule. After a formal handover ceremony on July 1, the colony became the Hong Kong special administrative region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China.
An hour before midnight June 30 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover to China from British rule, China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, aimed at stamping out opposition to the ruling Communist Party.
Bytten off more than they can chew?
Beijing-based, Sequoia backed; ByteDance is one of the world’s most valuable technology start-ups. Grey market trading in its shares recently valued the company at $150 billion.
TikTok owned by ByteDance was launched globally in August 2017, and quickly vaulted onto the list of the world’s top 10 apps by downloads in 2019. The app currently boasts over 100 million active users in India alone.
The new national-security law imposed by mainland China will empower police to make internet companies hand over user data. Bytedance as the parent company of TikTok subsequently announced it would remove the app from the Hong Kong market.
Equivalently the world’s major internet and social media platforms have stopped processing requests for user data made by Hong Kong law enforcement authorities while they carry out an assessment of a controversial security law.
It’s potentially a misnomer to label much of the recent action trivially as anti-china given the clear precedent that has been set by Beijing over the last decade which saw access to Google, Facebook et al blocked on the mainland.
‘this has led to understandable outcry over the developments in Hong Kong, which appears destined as the stage upon which a ‘borderless’ digital world will define its borders’
Globally, governments in India and the US have looked to also ban the app amidst growing nationalistic tendencies surrounding recent diplomatic incidents. India has been the first to proceed with a ban; partly antagonised by Beijing in recent Himalayan border clashes but more centrally in response to widespread claims over illegal data harvesting from apps; a well-aired concern in the online world.
As such companies seeking to operate globally have to operate in a dichotomous framework; walking the tightrope of deference to nationalistic home agendas whilst seeking to embrace new markets in global expansion aims. Business models predicated on growth in key emerging markets must be tempered against the opacity of the region of operation and its practices in regard to data privacy.
Tiktok for one is seeking to distance itself from perceived CCP links through exploration of new headquarters in London, Singapore or Dublin. A physical move that is surely negligible in its ability to providing evidence of extrication from the tentacles of Beijing.
It is perhaps ironic that the decisions regarding online freedoms and free expression made post the changes of law in Hong Kong, will reverberate deeply off-line.
A once borderless industry must define its borders.
The clock is tikking…