TikTok gone from Hong Kong app stores as China law bites

by BLOOMBERG / pic by BLOOMBERG

ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok is no longer available to download for either iPhones or Android devices in Hong Kong, exiting the market just days after the passage of a new national security law by Beijing.

The law grants sweeping powers for authorities to police online content and has drawn opposition from internet giants like Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. TikTok, which has been the subject of intensifying scrutiny from the U.S. over its relationship with the Chinese government, said on Tuesday that it would withdraw the app from Hong Kong in the coming days.

The short video service, a global sensation from the U.S. to India, has a China-only twin called Douyin. It is not yet clear whether ByteDance will offer Douyin as a substitute in Hong Kong, a city of 7.4 million people where TikTok had 1.8 million downloads as of September, according to Sensor Tower.

TikTok has faced persistent allegations that its decisions on content align with Beijing’s priorities. It has targeted videos related to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the mistreatment of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region and standoffs at the India-China border. It was among 59 apps that India banned after an intensification of that border dispute recently.

Last year, a ByteDance spokesman told Bloomberg News that TikTok didn’t remove videos from the Hong Kong protests for political reasons, saying they may have instead been taken down for violating guidelines around violent, graphic, shocking or sensational content.

ByteDance announced in May that Kevin Mayer, the architect of Walt Disney Co.’s direct-to-consumer video strategy, would become chief executive officer of TikTok, a step that could improve the service’s image abroad. Mayer, who now runs TikTok globally, may help smooth relations with U.S. lawmakers and interest groups, while attracting talent and new content to speed TikTok’s international expansion.