Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet claimed to be mulling HK exit due to evolving data protection laws

Global tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet's Google have reportedly told the Hong Kong government that they might stop offering their services in Hong Kong should the government continue to change data-protection laws, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The report said that these three companies have privately told the Hong Kong government that the laws could make them "liable for the malicious sharing of individuals’ information online". They are also worried about the planned amendments to the city’s data-protection laws aimed at address doxing, which they say could put their employees at risk of criminal investigations or prosecutions related to what the companies’ users post online.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition dated 25 June said that the tech companies thought that the only way to avoid sanctions would be to stop investing and offering services in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, according to the South China Morning Post, the Asia Internet Coalition said the legislation was too vague and broad. It added that it was unfair to hold local staff accountable and responsible if their overseas-based companies did not remove content on their platforms as required by the authorities.

Reuters,meanwhile,reported that in the letter, the companies said that introducing sanctions aimed at individuals "is not aligned with global norms and trends".

The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau of the Hong Kong government proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws in May as it believed that it had to combat doxing, a practice of putting people’s personal information online which could lead to harassments of individuals. This was said to be prevalent during protests in the city in 2019. Details of some officers' home addresses, phone numbers, and children's schools were also exposed online by protesters, while some of whom threatened them and their families online.

The proposed laws call for punishments of up to HK$1 million (US$128,800) and up to five years’ imprisonment. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to Facebook and Google for further comments.

In 2019, the city-state of Singapore also made a move to criminalise the act of “doxxing” to curb the harassment of residents and clamp down on sharing of personal information of people online. It also passed a new bill called Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill to curb the spread of online falsehoods and clamp down on the use of an inauthentic online account or a bot to communicate falsehoods.

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