Apple bowed to China by removing a Hong Kong protests map from its app store

Not coming to an Apple app store near you.
Not coming to an Apple app store near you.
Image: Screengrab/HKMap.Live
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First it was rejected. Then it was approved. And now the iOS app of HKMap.live, a real-time, volunteer-run, and crowdsourced map of the city’s protests, has been removed by Apple from its app store.

In a statement, Apple said the app “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong,” as well as 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 move came a day after Chinese state media blasted the tech giant for supporting pro-democracy protesters, warning the company would suffer consequences for its “unwise and reckless” decision of approving the “poisonous” map app, which it said “obviously helps rioters.” Earlier, Apple also removed the Quartz app from its Chinese app store, at the request of China, and deleted the Taiwan flag emoji from iPhone keyboards for Hong Kong users in its latest software update.

HKMap.live is a dynamic online map that shows the latest developments during protests in Hong Kong, which have been increasingly spontaneous and widespread in recent weeks. Various emoji show the locations and movements of police and protesters, as well as places where tear gas has been deployed or barricades erected. But the map is not just used by protesters: passersby and residents use the map to get a quick overview of the latest developments, so as to avoid tear gas and other trouble spots.

Apple had earlier this month rejected the app, which was already available on Google Play, saying it “facilities, enables, and encourages” illegal activity by allowing users to “evade law enforcement.” After reviewing the app further, it then approved it late last week. The app became available for download on Saturday and quickly topped the travel category in the Hong Kong app store. Now, just several days later, it has decided to remove the app after all in the wake of the warning from Chinese state media.

In a statement posted its Twitter page, the administrator of HKMap.Live, who is in his 20s and works in the finance industry, said that there is “0 evidence” showing that the app had been used to target and ambush police officers. It emphasized that the app aggregates from public sources like news outlets’ live streams, and also vets entries from users, adding: “The majority of user review in App Store that suggest HKmap IMPROVED public safety, not the opposite.”

Critics of the decision pointed out that the app is no different than other community-generated mapping platforms such as Google’s traffic app Waze, which factors in real-time data from users such as warnings of high-crime areas.

American companies have come under relentless pressure from the Chinese government in recent days for their support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, which China has painted as a dangerous separatist movement.

After the NBA’s Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed his support for the city’s protests in a now-deleted tweet last Friday (Oct. 4),  Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, social media giant Tencent—the league’s largest overseas partner—and other Chinese partners said they would end cooperation with the Rockets, while the Chinese consulate in Houston warned the team to “immediately correct any mistakes.” Also this week, the US gaming company Blizzard Entertainment gave a one-year suspension to a professional player from Hong Kong for having violated competition rules by shouting “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times!‘ in a post-game interview on Sunday (Oct. 6).

This story was updated with a statement from HKMap.Live.