Tech companies including Google not planning to exit HK, privacy watchdog says

Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog on Wednesday dismissed reports that tech giants like Google could withdraw from Hong Kong if the government proceeds with its plans to implement new data protection legislation, RTHK reports.

The Asia Internet Coalition, which includes firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, had earlier warned that companies could discontinue their services in the city over concerns that their staff could be prosecuted after the introduction of an anti-doxxing law.

In a letter submitted to the Privacy Commissioner late last month, the coalition’s head, Jeff Paine, said it was “completely disproportionate” for companies and their staff to be subject to criminal liability.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering their services in Hong Kong, thereby depriving Hong Kong businesses and consumers, whilst also creating new barriers to trade,” Paine wrote.

But in a statement issued on Tuesday night, a government spokesperson denied that the tech giants had plans to quit the city.

“The letter made no mention of the stance of individual company members nor are there companies planning to retreat from Hong Kong… the government spokesman strongly opposed to the reports that took matters out of context to mislead and confuse the public,” the statement read.

The comment was echoed by Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung, who told an RTHK radio program that the reports were simply “inaccurate”.

Chung stressed normal business activities would not be affected by the planned legislation, saying online platforms would not be breaking the law as long as they remove doxxing content as per her office’s request.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Internet Society Hong Kong, Charles Low, said internet providers could be ordered to block websites under the proposed law.

“If those platforms aren’t managed in Hong Kong… the privacy commissioner has the right to ban them, like messaging softwares including Telegram and Signal,” he said.

He added that online platforms may withdraw from Hong Kong should the doxxing law be abused in the future.

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