Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained why his company decided to succumb to China’s pressure and remove an app that was being used by Honk Kong pro-democracy protestors.
Protesters had been using the HKmap.live app to monitor police movement based on crowdsourced inputs. Apple removed the app a few days ago, then reinstated it, then pulled it again on Wednesday, a day after People’s Daily, China’s state-run news platform published a piece that proposed Apple was complicit in “illegal acts” by helping the protestors “engage in more violence.”
Reuters reports that Cook defended the decision in a statement posted on an internal company site. “It is no secret that technology can be used for good or for ill. This case is no different,” Cook wrote, according to Reuters, which reviewed the letter.
Apple removed a smartphone app used by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong Thursday in the tech giant’s latest capitulation to China’s authoritarian government. The app, HKmap.live, allowed users to see Hong Kong police movements via crowdsourced information as cops in the region continue to brutalise the local population. Apple had previously banned the app, but reinstated it just a few days ago, only to remove it again on Thursday.
The letter (a copy that tech veteran John Gruber claims is authentic has been posted by here) went on to explain that the company reviewed “credible information” from “users” and “Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau” and subsequently determined HKmap.live was used “maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present.”
“This use put the app in violation of Hong Kong law,” Cook wrote. “Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our App Store guidelines barring personal harm.”
Apple confirmed to Reuters that the letter was written by Cook. The company did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for further confirmation or comment.
“National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts,” Cook wrote. “In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users.”
Cook’s claims are difficult to confirm but Pinboard founder and social critic Maciej Cegłowski has been on the ground in Hong Kong for some time, and they found the Apple CEO’s remarks to be suspect. Ceglowski full statement on the matter is available over at Daring Fireball and reads in part:
The first allegation is that “the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence”. This makes no sense at all. The app does not show the locations of individual officers at all. It shows general concentrations of police units, with a significant lag.
As the developer and @charlesmok, a Hong Kong legislator, have pointed out, the app aggregates reports from Telegram, Facebook and other sources. It beggars belief that a campaign to target individual officers would use a world-readable crowdsourcing format like this.
Moreover, what are these incidents where protesters have targeted individual police for a premeditated attack? Can Mr. Cook point to a single example? Can anyone?
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley has been contributing heavily to the debate in a tweet on Tuesday. “Apple assured me last week that their initial decision to ban this app was a mistake,” Hawley wrote. “Looks like the Chinese censors have had a word with them since. Who is really running Apple? Tim Cook or Beijing?”