Google gave user data to Hong Kong officials despite moratorium promise

Google wasn't absolute in its response to China's security law.

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BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 31: The Google corporate logo hangs outside the Google Germany offices on August 31, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. Google has announced it will invest EUR one billion in a variety of projects in Germany, with most of the money going to 23 wind and solar energy projects to be operational by 2030. The effort aims to supply electricity from renewable sources for Google's Germany data centers. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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Google vowed that it would no longer directly respond to Hong Kong authorities' data requests after the Chinese government imposed a security law in June 2020, but it appears the company made a handful of exceptions. The Hong Kong Free Press reports Google provided "some data" for three out of 43 requests from Hong Kong authorities in the second half of 2020. One was for an emergency where life was at risk, while another two concerned human trafficking.

The internet firm stressed that neither of the trafficking requests were linked to national security, and were backed by signed search warrants as well as Google's worldwide policy on requests. None of the three handovers involved content. However, they also weren't made under a treaty with the US Justice Department that Google said would be necessary for requests going forward.

The responses aren't completely unexpected. Attempts to pursue cases through the treaty could take months. It just wouldn't be realistic to feed urgent, non-security requests through that system.

Nonetheless, this illustrates the problems Google and other tech giants (including Facebook and Twitter) have while trying to disengage with China over the security law and, more recently, privacy law changes. While the companies can stall requests, an absolute refusal to comply may be difficult without leaving Hong Kong entirely.

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