Apple removes app used by Hong Kong protesters to track police movements

Riot police patrol near the police station in Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong China

Riot police patrol near the police station in Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong China

On Twitter, an account believed to be owned by the HKmap.live app's developer said it disagreed with Apple's decision and that there was no evidence to support the Hong Kong police's claims that the app had been used in ambushes.

"Is Apple guiding Hong Kong thugs?" it had asked in an opinion piece.

The company said in a statement that it removed HKmap.live from its app store because it "has been used to target and ambush police" and "threaten public safety".

Maya Wang, a senior China researcher with Human Rights Watch, said there could be legitimate concerns of misuse of apps but that the statement from Apple was "disingenuous" because it did not make any reference to pressure from Beijing in the People's Daily commentary. "Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our App Store guidelines barring personal harm".

The protests began in opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill but have since evolved into a pro-democracy movement fanned by fears that China is encroaching on the freedoms Hong Kong was guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place with the 1997 handover.

You have likely seen the news that we made the decision to remove an app from the App Store entitled HKmap.live. She added that she will reconsider buying more Apple products.

Chinese state media this week tore into the app, which collates information on police locations submitted by users, charging that it was helping "rioters".

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Hong Kong office worker Acko Wong, 26, did not think the app helped criminals.

But Cook's claims have been disputed by those on the ground, who argue the violations described don't match up with what the app displays. A cohort of police wearing riot helmets and banging their plastic shields followed some distance behind, clearing road blocks left by the march.

Wong said he downloaded the app to stay away from "danger and traffic" during the many battles between protesters and police. Back in 2017 Cook agreed to remove VPN apps from the Chinese edition of the App Store after the government complained they were being used to circumvent its "great firewall" network. It also still works on some non-Apple devices. According to reporting in the New York Times, Beijing is concerned its actions are drawing more attention to the protests and harming the country's standing on the global stage, adding yet more tension to relations with the USA as trade talks restart in Washington.

Pro-establishment and pro-democracy legislators shouted at each other before the start of the session, heightening tensions that have spiralled following four months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in the territory. The measure would have permitted sending people to mainland China for trial. A growing number of American giants, including Activision Blizzard Inc., find themselves embroiled in controversies over the extent to which their actions are influenced by economic considerations in a vast Chinese market. The NBA was at the center of a firestorm earlier this week after an executive with the Houston Rockets tweeted his support for the protestors. The post was removed a short time later. After facing intense criticism from the government of China and the cancellations of National Basketball Association games in the country the Rockets apologized.

John Leicester and Joe McDonald reported on this story for the Associated Press.

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