Big Tech names like Facebook and Twitter can’t keep themselves out of headlines for more than 24 hours. This time they’re threatening to leave the entire region of Hong Kong, perhaps with good reason. That region of China has drafted new privacy laws aimed at minimising doxxing — the act of publicly revealing personal information on the internet.
The Asia Internet Coalition, a tech alliance that includes Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter, has warned Hong Kong legislators that the companies will stop operating in the territory if the area follows through on its new privacy laws.
Hong Kong’s doxxing problem
Remember the country’s 2019 protests? During these, activists used social media to publish the personal information of government officials and police officers. The new laws will hold both the people sharing the information, as well as the platform it is shared on, accountable for similar actions.
While putting a lid on doxxing on the internet seems like the sort of white-knightery the world wants, the laws will make it extremely difficult for social media platforms to operate the way they normally do. Posts in the area would need to be extensively vetted or moderated — which just isn’t possible. Even if it was, content contravening the new law would still slip though.
Fight fire with… threats of fire?
“The tech giants are worried that staff could face criminal investigations or even charges if users share personal info online, even if they didn’t mean any harm,” Engadget reports. It also reports that Hong Kong’s Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data knows the letter from the Internet Coalition exists, but that it plans to go ahead with the privacy laws.
Lawmakers also believe that the new laws won’t affect freedom of speech in the region, while wording in the law reportedly allows for users (and platforms) to be prosecuted for something like sharing a picture of a stranger on the street. Loose legislative wording could translate into abuse by pro-China officials, which may hold any person or social platform responsible for vague posts on its platforms (that it doesn’t like).
Of course, pulling out of Hong Kong completely will affect these tech platforms on a small scale, but their willingness to leave the area entirely indicates just how worried they are about this law’s potential for abuse (and the potential economic impact on their respective earnings). If ever there was a Mexican standoff for Big Tech in 2021, this is it.