Apple has removed a tool for tracking the real-time locations of police activity from its App Store, provoking controversy.
The app – which provides information on the whereabouts of Hong Kong police vehicles, armed officers, and sites where injuries have occurred – was removed, seemingly in reaction to a negative column featured in Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily.
The article criticised the tech giant for “allowing its platform to clear the way for an app which incites illegal behaviour”. The mouthpiece of the mainland government also accused Apple of protecting “rioters” in Hong Kong and enabling their “illegal behaviour”.
In a statement following the app’s removal, Apple said that “HKmap.live hs been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong. Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it.”
Apple added that it had removed the app for violating guidelines and local laws, once it had verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the software had, “been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimise residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement.”
The HKmap.live service functions by collating reports from instant messaging service Telegram on police patrols and tear gas deployments. It had previously been rejected for placement in the App Store as recently as last week but the company reversed the decision on Friday, making it available for a short window before taking it down this Thursday 10 October. Though iOS users are now unable to download the app, it is still available on Android, as is a web version.
Responding via its official Twitter account, the app’s developer stated the app had never solicited, promoted, or encouraged criminal activities. They went on to say they believed the App Store’s initial rejection of HKmap.live was a bureaucratic matter, but that the latest removal was, “clearly a political decision to suppress freedom and human rights in #HongKong. ”
They concluded the statement saying, “It is disappointing to see US corps such as @Apple, @NBA, @Blizzard_Ent, @TiffanyAndCo act against #freedom.”
Apple is only the latest company in the last few days to be accused of politically motivated censorship in regards to the Hong Kong protests. Nike, Blizzard Entertainment, and Vans, have all been accused of bending under pressure from the Chinese mainland and a concern for their financial interests. Criticism has been voiced by politicians and public figures, but it is being largely driven by a growing collective of vocal netizens supportive of the protests, who have launched a series of boycott and awareness campaigns. Countering this has been a flurry of social activity, ostensibly from mainland citizens, praising these companies’ actions as respectful to China’s sovereignty and internal security, though there have been many reports that this activity is largely being bolstered by paid government posters.
In any case, the protests are becoming a PR trap for an increasing number of brands to navigate, with others likely to fall in before it’s over.