Apple has removed an app Hong Kong protesters were using to track police movements, saying it violated rules because it was used to ambush police.
- The app gave protesters the ability to see where police were located in relation to the protests
- Apple had initially approved it, but has now removed it from the App Store after backlash from China
- A Twitter user believed to be the app’s developer said he disagreed with Apple’s decision
The US tech giant came under fire from China over the app, with the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper calling the it “poisonous” and decrying what it said was Apple’s complicity in helping the Hong Kong protesters.
Apple had only just last week approved the HKmap.live app — which crowdsources the locations of both police and protesters — after rejecting it earlier this month.
Apple said in a statement it began an immediate investigation after “many concerned customers in Hong Kong” contacted the company about the app, and Apple found it had endangered law enforcement officers and residents.
“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 victimise residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” the statement said.
Apple did not comment beyond its statement. The company also removed BackupHK, a separate app that served as mirror of the main HKlive.map app. Hong Kong police had no immediate comment.
On Twitter, an account believed to be owned by the HKlive.map app’s developer said it disagreed with Apple’s decision and there was no evidence the app had been used in ambushes.
The app consolidated content from public posts on social networks, and moderators would delete content that solicited criminal activity and ban those who made repeated attempts to post such content, the account said.
“The majority of user review[s] in App Store … suggest HKmap improved public safety, not the opposite,” it added.
In a separate move, Apple also removed the Quartz news app from its App Store in China because Chinese authorities said it violated local laws.
Quartz chief executive Zach Seward told technology publication The Verge: “We abhor this kind of government censorship of the internet, and have great coverage of how to get around such bans around the world.”
Anger in Hong Kong
The HKlive.map app was removed from Apple’s app store globally but continued to work for users who had previously downloaded it in Hong Kong, Reuters found. A web version was also still viewable on iPhones.
The People’s Daily had previously said Apple did not have a sense of right and wrong, and ignored the truth. Making the app available on Apple’s Hong Kong App Store at this time was “opening the door” to violent protesters in the former British colony, the newspaper wrote.
In the past apps that have met the requirements to appear in Apple’s App Store have sometimes been removed because they have been found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety.
In 2011, Apple modified its app store to remove apps that listed locations for drink driving tests not previously published by law enforcement officials.
Word of the HKmap.live app’s removal spread quickly in Hong Kong.
“Does the entire world have to suck up to the garbage Communist Party,” one commentator called Yip Lou Jie wrote on online forum LIHKG, which is used by protesters in Hong Kong.