On Wednesday, Apple removed an application called HKmap.live from its App Store amid pressure from China. Before its exclusion, Hong Kong protestors used the crowd-sourced program to avoid local police. Now, U.S. and Hong Kong politicians are slamming the firm for being the latest U.S. corporation to bend to the desires of the Chinese government.
Reversing the Reversal
On October 1, HKmap.live tweeted that Apple rejected its mobile application for inclusion in the App Store because it “Facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity – that is not legal.” At the time, the program’s developers assumed that the firm made an administrative error. Indeed, on October 4, Apple reversed course and approved the HKmap.live app for distribution through its platform.
"Your app contains content – or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity – that is not legal … Specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement."@Apple assume our user are lawbreakers and therefore evading law enforcement, which is clearly not the case.
— HKmap.live 全港抗爭即時地圖 (@hkmaplive) October 1, 2019
However, the Cupertino, California-based corporation changed its mind a second time following the publication of an article in China Daily, a state-sponsored English-language newspaper. The opinion piece claims that Hong Kong “rioters” use the app to avoid police while committing “violent acts.”
The China Daily article even goes as far as to implicitly threaten Apple’s business interests in the Communist nation. It says, “Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision.”
Soon after the editorial went live, Apple removed the HKmap.live app from its online store for the second time. Moreover, the corporation released a statement noting that the Hong Kong Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau (CSTCB) said that the app had been used by criminals to target and attack local police. Apple also claimed that the agency found criminals utilizing the software to prey on citizens in under policed areas.
In response, HKmap.live developers said that the CSTCB had no evidence to back up its accusations. Furthermore, the team claims that their app “Never solicits, promotes, or encourages criminal activity.”
Lawmakers Speak Out
U.S. Senators on both sides of the aisle have publicly slammed Apple for seemingly capitulating to Beijing’s app-killing request.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) had harsh words for the iPhone maker’s conduct. “An authoritarian regime is violently suppressing its citizens who are fighting for democracy,” notes Wyden. “Apple just sided with them.”
Similarly, frequent tech industry critic Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) chastised the company for taking its cues from Chinese censors. “Who is really running Apple?” wrote the politician. “Tim Cook or Beijing?”
In addition, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) criticized the tech corporation for “Putting profits above the human rights and dignity of people of Hong Kong.”
Also, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) noted, “Apple is yet another capitalist who’ll sell rope to communists to hang us.”
Apple’s decision also prompted a sharp rebuke from Hong Kong politician Charles Mok. The official, a member of the city’s legislative counsel, tweeted a letter that he wrote to CEO Tim Cook regarding the issue. In it, Mok disputed the CSTCB claims and said that locals used HKmap.live to avoid being subjected to police brutality.
It seems @tim_cook didn't have any info on police abuse in Hong Kong that citizens were trying to avoid with the removed app HKmap. live. Here's a long but incomplete list of the dangers our citizens were trying to avoid. Did you see this before?https://t.co/2P6n1Hlks6
— Charles Mok 莫乃光 (@charlesmok) October 11, 2019
On Thursday, The Verge reported that Tim Cook sent an email to Apple staffers regarding the removal of the HKmap.live app. In the message, the executive reiterated the CSTCB’s claims about how the program was being used and stood behind his company’s stance to promote safety. He also said, “National and international debates will outlive us all.”
Meanwhile, criticism of Blizzard and the NBA has only intensified since their acquiescence to the Chinese government has been made public. Given the more impactful nature of its actions, Apple shouldn’t expect to be treated any differently.