Apple CEO Tim Cook has written an email to all employees, defending the company’s decision to remove the HKmap.Live app from its App Store. The app was being used by Hong Kong protesters to track the movement of police and Apple’s decision to remove it has sparked widespread criticism.
In a public statement, Apple had said, “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.”
Cook in his letter, which has been posted online, said that removing the app from the App Store was not an easy decision. He added that in the letter that the HKmap.live app “allowed for the crowdsourced reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots, and other information,” noting that on its own “this information is benign.”
He said Apple received “credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong” that the app in question was being used to “maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present.”
This kind of use meant that the app was in violation of Hong Kong law, adding that widespread abuse also violates App Store guidelines. Cook went on to add that the App Store is supposed to be safe and trust place for every user and that while “national and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts.”
“In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users,” he concludes in the letter. But Cook’s claims that app was being used to target individual officers is being questioned and on ground users have said the app did not display this information, rather it showed where widespread police was present. The claim is that the app was being used by citizens to protect themselves.
But HKmap.Live issued a statement on its removal from the App Store and said they disagreed with the claim that the app was endangering law enforcement officials and residents in Hong Kong. The company called the removal a “political decision to suppress freedom and human right in Hong Kong”.
The app says it is only consolidating information from user and public sources, e.g. live news stream, Facebook and Telegram and that most of the content is user generated, which is reviewed by moderators, who can delete any content which solicits, promotes or encourages any kind of criminal activity.
Further, HKmap.live claimed the App Store guidelines were vague, adding that there was user-generated content on Facebook, Instagram, Safari, Twitter, etc which encourages criminal activity, but none of those apps had ever been targeted or removed. The app claimed that the majority of user reviews in App Store suggest that the HKmap helped improve public safety and not the opposite.
Apple also received criticism from Charles Mok, who is a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council. Mok wrote a letter saying he was disappointed with Apple’s decision to remove the app.
Today I wrote to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, to tell him his company’s decision to remove HKmap live app from Appstore will cause problems for normal Hong Kong’s citizens trying to avoid police presence while they are under constant fear ofpolice brutality. Values over profits, pls! pic.twitter.com/guaBfV8Pnf
— Charles Mok 莫乃光 (@charlesmok) October 10, 2019
He noted in his letter that the app helped innocent citizens avoid police harassment and that many users were simply using the app to arrange their own transport route and to protect themselves from tear gas and police confrontations.
In his letter, he also said that Hong Kong’s citizens would definitely look closely at whether Apple will uphold its commitment to free expression and basic human rights or whether it would be an accomplice to Chinese censorship and oppression.
HKMap.Live is not the only app that Apple has removed. The news organisation Quartz found its mobile app was also removed from the Chinese App Store, according to The Verge. This was reportedly after complaints from the Chinese government over their coverage of the Hong Kong protests. Meanwhile, Google has not removed the HKMap.Live app from its Play Store.