American tech giants are cutting users in Hong Kong off their services

Google and OpenAI are treating Hong Kong at par with mainland China and North Korea.
Ameya Paleja
Users in Hong Kong are getting the shorter end of the stick
Users in Hong Kong are getting the shorter end of the stick


American tech giants such as Apple, Google, and OpenAI have all taken measures to limit services available to users in Hong Kong. Officially, there have been no reasons for the move, but observers told The Wall Street Journal that the companies may be acting to prevent criticisms of Beijing and its government.

The city of Hong Kong enjoys special administrative privileges in the People's Republic of China and has long enjoyed global patronage as an international business hub. Companies such as Facebook and Google, which do not operate in mainland China, offer their services in Hong Kong, just like the rest of the world.

However, off late, companies have begun holding back on their offerings after the free flow of information is also restricted in the Hong Kong region.

Spotlight on a YouTube song

Hong Kong authorities dragged Google to court this week after a pro-democracy song was shared on its popular video platform, YouTube. According to the authorities, the song "Glory to Hong Kong" has 32 videos on the platform and contains lyrics that encourage the decision to leave the country of China.

This is a significant challenge for a U.S.-based tech company over politically sensitive content that could bring a wave of new opposition shortly. Although Hong Kong is not part of the Great Firewall that restricts users from accessing content from the West, many believe that it is now being nudged closer to such a reality.

A survey conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong revealed that just 38 percent of respondents were optimistic about the region maintaining access to free internet in the coming three years.

US tech giants have buckled already

Even as YouTube's case is scheduled for a hearing next month, the US tech giants have already buckled under pressure. Even as citizens of most countries experience the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) models like ChatGPT or Bard, both OpenAI nor Google have not rolled out their chatbots in the Hong Kong region.

Experts believe this could be out of fear that the chatbots might say something that goes against China's national security laws implemented three years ago.

American tech giants are cutting users in Hong Kong off their services
Services like AI chatbots are not available at full potential in Hong Kong

iPhone maker Apple, which relies heavily on China for sourcing its products, has also teamed up with China's Tencent to offer a suspicious website filter service on its Safari browsers.

While Apple uses Google's services for this feature worldwide, in Hong Kong, teaming up with Tencent has meant that users temporarily faced issues accessing sites like Twitter-rival Mastodon, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, and coding website GitLab.

Content provider Disney is also part of this group that has maneuvered its ways to suit the Chinese government. Its streaming service has blocked access to two episodes of the popular sitcom, The Simpsons in Hong Kong, including critiques of the Beijing government.

These reports also come when the relationship between the US and China shows no signs of improving, and the US companies are wary of backlash that might hurt businesses. None of the companies chose to comment on these developments when contacted by CNBC.