Late Wednesday evening, one day after a commentary in China’s state-owned People’s Daily questioned whether Apple was “thinking clearly” for letting the App Store host an app that tracks the movements of police in Hong Kong, the California tech giant reacted and took the app down.
“We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place to discover apps. We have learned that your app has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong,” the App Store review team purportedly said in a message to the developer of the app, HKmap.live, explaining its decision to remove the app.
The app—which already operates browser and Android versions—allows users to drop pins on a map of Hong Kong at locations where they have sighted police, protesters or travel obstructions, such as blocked roads or tear gas. Supporters say the app allows residents to avoid accidentally stumbling into areas of unrest while critics, like the People’s Daily, labels it as a tool that helps protesters evade police.
In the alleged statement to HKmap.live, which the developer shared on its Telegram account, Apple said it had 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.”
Writing on HKmap.live’s official Twitter page, the app developer said it disagrees with Apple’s claim that the map has endangered law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong and that there is zero evidence to support claims that the app has been used to “target and ambush police.”
HKmap.live initially applied to register on the App Store in September and had its application rejected several times. On October 4, Apple reportedly told HKmap.live that the app couldn’t be approved because it “contains content—or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity—that is not legal” and was rejected because “specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement.”
Days later, however, Apple appeared to change its mind and greenlit the app for the App Store. HKmap.live promptly rose to the top of download charts under the Hong Kong App Store’s “travel” section. However, the app’s rise appears to have caught the attention of officials in Beijing.
On October 8, the People’s Daily—often viewed as the Party’s mouthpiece—released a commentary under the pseudonym Calming the Waves, which criticized Apple for “protecting rioters” and said “allowing the poisonous app to flourish is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings.”
“This kind of foolishness and recklessness will cause much trouble for Apple, and Apple needs to think deeply,” the commentary warned.
Evidently, Apple didn’t need to think long.
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