Apple removes app used in Hong Kong protests after pressure from China

has removed HKmap.live, a crowdsourced mapping app widely used by residents, from the Store. The app and accompanying web service has been used to mark the locations of police and inform about street closures during the ongoing pro-democracy protests that have engulfed Hong Kong this year.

Apple initially rejected HKmap.live from the App Store earlier this month, then reversed its decision a few days later. Now it has reversed its reversal.

Here’s Apple’s statement:

We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place to discover apps. We have learned that an app, HKmap.live, has 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. 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. This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store.

“There is 0 evidence to support CSTCB’s accusation,” the HKmap developers said in response. “HKmap App never solicits, promotes, or encourages criminal activity. HKmap App consolidates information from user and public sources, e.g. live news stream, Facebook and Telegram.”

Yesterday, English-language state media outlet Daily blasted Apple’s decision to allow HKmap.live onto the App Store. “Providing a gateway for ‘toxic apps’ is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people, twisting the facts of Hong Kong affairs, and against the views and principles of the Chinese people,” the op-ed argued.

Apple’s enforcement of App Store policies is inconsistent at best, so it’s hard to take its statement at face value. The company hasn’t said which “local laws” HKmap.live may violate. It is worth pointing out, however, that apps like Waze which similarly allow users to track the locations of police checkpoints remain in the App Store elsewhere. Earlier today Apple also removed the app of news outlet Quartz, which has been providing strong coverage of the Hong Kong protests, from China’s App Store.

For now, HKmap.live’s web version is still accessible on the iPhone.

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