Apple removes Hong Kong police-tracking app after complaints from China

Business & Technology

After two initial rejections and a hard-earned approval, HKmap.live, a crowdsourcing mapping app that Hong Kong protesters used for its cop-tracking feature, was removed from the Apple App Store on Wednesday following complaints from mainland China.

The controversial app, which helped demonstrators track the movement of local police, was previously twice rejected by Apple last month because of its payment options and the possibility of enabling illegal activity. It finally went live on October 5. Soon after its App Store debut, the app attracted attention on Chinese social media sites like Weibo, where a number of internet users, unhappy about Apple’s reversal of its decision, called for a boycott of the tech company.

Several news organizations also weighed in to condemn the approval. Calling the app “a good helper for Hong Kong rioters,” the Global Times published an editorial commentary that criticized Apple for being “complicit” in the “crimes committed by the protesters in Hong Kong.” The People’s Daily slammed the tech giant for “providing a gateway for ‘toxic apps’” like HKmap.live, which it claimed had very negative consequences such as “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 widespread criticism on Chinese internet and from news media seemed to be the main cause of the removal. Apple issued a statement on Thursday that cited the app’s potential to harm law enforcement:

“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.”

The creators of HKmap.live slapped back at Apple on Twitter, saying, “The majority of user review in App Store that suggest HKmap IMPROVED public safety, not the opposite,” and “HKmap is used by passerby, protesters, journalist, tourist, and even pro-government supporters. It might be hard for people outside to imagine tear gases in your neighborhood, train station, or your go-to shopping mall, but ~5000 of them is fired since June.” Click below for the full thread.