“A Clearly Political Decision”: Apple Deletes Hong Kong App Under Pressure from China

  • Chinese state media criticized the app during the week, saying it helps "agitators" protesting China's influence in Hong Kong. 
  • Hong Kong residents have complained about Apple's decision on social media. 
  • Other international companies and brands have recently been affected by similar warnings from the Chinese government.

Apple today removed the HKmap.live application, presumably used by Hong Kong protesters to trace police in real-time after the Chinese administration accused the American technology company of supporting the pro-democracy movement in the city.

HKmap.live is a web mapping service which crowdsources and tracks the location of protesters and police in Hong Kong. The service gathers reports from instant messaging service Telegram on police patrols and tear gas deployments.

HKmap.live is a user-powered map that updates, in real-time, the location of protests and the number of police on the streets. Chinese state media criticized the app during the week, saying it helps “agitators” protesting China’s influence in Hong Kong. The People’s Daily stated that by making the app available, Apple was “mixing business and politics, including illegal acts.” Today, Thursday, the app has been removed on the App Store in Hong Kong.

The former British colony has been the scene for four months of political crisis unprecedented since its return to China in 1997, with almost daily demonstrations calling for more freedoms and denouncing what they (protesters) describe as Beijing’s growing interference in the semi-autonomous region.

In a statement, Apple said many customers concerned about the protests contacted them about the mapping device. After investigations, the company concluded that HKmap.live was being used to ambush and attack police. “The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” the statement read in part.

The developers of HKmap.live have denied that the app encourages any criminal activity and have stated that Apple’s decision constitutes an act of “censorship” and a “clearly political decision to diminish freedom.” This is not the first time the app is banned by Apple. Earlier this month, the app had been removed by the company but was made available again, last week.

Hong Kong residents have complained about Apple’s decision on social media.  “Many people are scared of police using tear gas and rubber bullets, so they use the app and make detours to avoid the uncontrolled police thugs,” Pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok wrote on Facebook. “Does Apple know it has the function to protect personal safety,” he added.

Charles Mok is a Hong Kong-based Internet entrepreneur and IT advocate who represents the Information Technology functional constituency on the Hong Kong Legislative Council.

Also affected in the same way is the economic news organization Quartz, which announced that its app was pulled from the Chinese version of Apple’s App Store following complaints from the Beijing government. Quartz sources told The Verge that the ban was prompted by the coverage of the protests. In addition, they said Apple sent a notification explaining that the mobile app “included illegal content in China.”

Other international companies and brands have recently been affected by similar warnings from the Chinese government, which apparently isn’t ready to tolerate any attitude contrary to those determined by the Communist Party on sensitive political issues. This week, state-run CCTV suspended broadcasts of NBA games after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed support for Hong Kong protesters in a message on Twitter. Several Chinese sponsors severed ties with the NBA.

US jewelry company Tiffany & Co. also had to withdraw an advertisement that Chinese consumers interpreted as a support for Hong Kong protesters. Elsewhere, the American Shoe manufacturer Vans was forced to eliminate two entries from an online design contest that featured images of the protests.

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Vincent Ferdinand

News reporting is my thing. My view of what is happening in our world is colored by my love of history and how the past influences events taking place in the present time.  I like reading politics and writing articles. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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