Apple pulls HKmap.live app used in Hong Kong protests

The move comes after pressure from China.

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Masked protesters in Hong Kong

Protests in Hong Kong have been ongoing since March.

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Apple has removed HKmap.live, a mapping app that crowdsources the location of police and protesters in Hong Kong, from the App Store, saying it violated the store's guidelines and local laws. The move comes after the iPhone maker was sharply criticized by the Chinese state newspaper and accused of facilitating illegal behavior by allowing the app. 

HKmap.live lets people report things like police locations, use of tear gas and other details about protests that are added to a regularly updated map. Apple said it took down the app after learning it was being used by protesters in Hong Kong to ambush police and threaten public safety.

"Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it," Apple said in a statement on Thursday. "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."

Apple reportedly only approved the app last week after previously rejecting it. On Tuesday, the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, People's Daily, called the app "poisonous" and accused Apple of aiding Hong Kong protesters by allowing it in the App Store, according to Reuters. 

The app's developer on Thursday spoke out against Apple's decision, saying on Twitter that it doesn't "solicit, promote, or encourage criminal activity." It also argued that there's "0 evidence to support CSTCB's accusation that HKmap App has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety."

The Hong Kong protests, which initially focused on a bill that would have allowed people arrested in Hong Kong to be transferred to and tried in mainland China, have been ongoing since March 2019. The extradition bill has since been withdrawn, but demonstrations have expanded to include other grievances and demands for greater democracy.

The Android version of the HKmap.live is still available in the Google Play store, and there's also a web version.

Apple isn't the only company to get tangled up in political tensions between China and Hong Kong. Activision Blizzard is facing backlash after pulling pro gamer Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai from a Hearthstone esports tournament for making a statement in support of the Hong Kong protests during competition. Blizzard is part-owned by Chinese company Tencent

News publication Quartz also said Thursday that its mobile app has been removed from the Chinese version of the App Store, which was reported earlier by The Verge. Quartz said it received a notice from Apple that said its app was being removed because it includes "content that is illegal in China," but wasn't given specifics. 

"We abhor this kind of government censorship of the internet, and have great coverage of how to get around such bans around the world," said Zach Seward, CEO of Quartz, in a emailed statement that also pointed out the publication's coverage of VPNs and the Hong Kong protests

Originally published Oct. 10, 5:58 a.m. PT.
Updates, 6:41 a.m. PT: Adds more background. And 8:23 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Quartz.

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