Google has in an interesting twist been reported to have broken a user data privacy stand given by themselves just a week after a new national security law was issued by China in Hong Kong last year.
In the law imposed by the Chinese Government, there is a possibility of facing up to a life sentence if one is found in activities that are deemed to be a threat to their national security.
In response, tech giants including Facebook and Twitter stopped responding to any request on user data that were coming from the Hong Kong authorities.
Google said they would treat Hong Kong like they do mainland China, providing information only if the request is made through the US Justice Department. This is a cumbersome process that involves weeks or months of going through the request as per what they call a bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT).
However, it appears that some user data was exempt from this vow, with Google handing over data belonging to three users from 43 requests made by Hong Kong last year.
Notably, compliance with the requests was also not done under the treaty mentioned above. Facebook on the other hand rejected all the 202 requests it received, so what reversed the position by Google?
Google stresses that the cases were processed according to the company’s global policy on government requests for user information, and that they were not related to national security. The policy provides Google with instructions to share metadata like name, user email, phone number among others upon requests made by governments where they have set shop, and per their laws and international norms.
One of these cases was an emergency disclosure request involving a credible threat to life while the other two were involving human trafficking. These two cases were fully supported by a search warranty, and the company clarifies that no user content data was in the information disclosed.
Whether these Google users were made aware of the fate of their data is still unclear as of this publication.