Apple pulls Hong Kong police-tracking app after Chinese state media criticism

2 min read
Doors in an Apple store on March 27, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Shi Jiayi)

Apple on Wednesday has removed from its App Store an app that helps protesters in Hong Kong track police activities, two days after Chinese state-run newspaper the People’s Daily blasted the tech giant for helping pro-democracy protesters.

Why it matters: Apple is the latest foreign company to be caught in the rising tide of Chinese nationalism amid the months-long anti-government protests in Hong Kong after allowing the HKmap.live app on its App Store last week.

  • Some Chinese tech companies, including Tencent and Alibaba, have suspended ties with the National Basketball Association this week following a tweet from a Houston Rockets executive in support of the Hong Kong protests.
  • On Tuesday, the People’s Daily said in a commentary (in Chinese) that by allowing the app, Apple was “assisting rioters in Hong Kong” and sought to be an “accessory” of protesters.

Details: The real-time map, which was officially launched in early August, shows a map of Hong Kong with crowd-sourced updates on the location of police, as well as water cannons and tear gas deployment.

  • In a statement on Thursday, Apple said the app had been used “in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.”
  • The company said that Hong Kong’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau (CSTCB) verified the app was being “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.”
  • “This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store,” said Apple.
  • The app’s developer said on Twitter that it disagrees with Apple and the CSTCB’s claim that the HKmap.live endangers law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong, saying the move was a political decision to suppress freedom and human rights in Hong Kong.

Context: Apple has a history of acquiescing to the strict internet regulations in China, the company’s second-largest market after the United States.

  • The company has removed hundreds of apps from the Chinese App Store in recent years, including those from The New York Times in 2017 and news outlet Quartz this week.
  • Earlier this month, Apple removed the Taiwanese flag emoji from its iPhone keyboard for users in Hong Kong in a recent update of its iOS operating system.