Google and OpenAI limit A.I. chatbots in Hong Kong amid China tensions, report says

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Hong Kong spent more than HK$600 billion ($76.44 billion) on various pandemic relief programs for the past three years, forcing it to run rare budget deficits.
Isaac Lawrence | AFP | Getty Images

Google and OpenAI, which has partnered with Microsoft, have restricted access to their powerful artificial intelligence chatbots in Hong Kong as fears over how China’s influence will impact its ability to maintain an open internet have grown, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

While the companies haven’t elaborated on why, the Journal said that observers believe expansion in the city could expose the companies to liability under a Chinese national security law criminalizing criticism of the government.

Hong Kong’s Department of Justice also recently sought to block a pro-democracy song, “Glory to Hong Kong” from being disseminated online and cited 32 instances where it appeared on Google-owned YouTube. Court deliberations are scheduled to continue in the case next month, according to the Journal.

Other companies have also taken steps to filter content that reaches Hong Kong. Disney has chosen not to bring two episodes of “The Simpsons” that include references to critiques of the Chinese government to its streaming service in Hong Kong, the Journal reported.

And Apple updated the privacy policy on its internet browser late last year to say it may use a tool from China-based Tencent to warn users in Hong Kong of malicious links, a service it’s relied on from Google in the past. Hong Kong users have reported that Tencent’s tool temporarily blocked access to legitimate Western sites like Twitter competitor Mastodon, cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase and coding website GitLab.

These incidents come amid a rocky relationship between the governments of the U.S. and China. Some U.S. platforms, like Facebook and Google, don’t operate in China due to its restrictions on free expression. While Hong Kong has long served as a hub for international business that’s been able to allow a freer flow of information, actions by the Chinese government in recent years have made its future more uncertain.

The Journal pointed to an American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong survey from March that found 38% of respondents were either optimistic or very optimistic that Hong Kong could maintain free access to the world internet over the next three years.

Representatives for Apple, Disney, Google, Microsoft, OpenAI and Tencent did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

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