Is Apple siding with China over Hong Kong? Tim Cook writes memo as HKmap is down

Both Republicans and Democrats have raised objections on Apple's decision under China's pressure.

One of the largest US-based companies has done something that many say under the pressure of China. The US is losing its card in a trade war with China? Is China showing its muscle to alter the decisions of a very notable US company? The message is clear; the government of the US is on one side, but the US companies are mistaken.

Yesterday, Apple removed an app HKmap.live from the App Store due to China. The app is unknown to the world but is the first app Hongkongers use when they get out of their homes in their mornings since the protests begin after the controversial bill.

The bill and the protests

Earlier in 2019 the locals strongly opposed a bill – Fugitive Offenders amendment bill – and Hong Kong protests popped out in the light of it. The bill allows criminals or suspects of Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial or conviction. Hong Kong is known to be a peaceful region and a business climate that attracts companies from all over the world. The people believe the Government of China suppresses their liberty with the bill. China is to take over Hong Kong in 2047 officially, but locals do not want Chinese influence at this moment while the status of Hong Kong is the semi-autonomous territory. This is known as ‘one country, two systems’ in China. In September, the Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam withdrawn the bill reported by Guardian but the protests believe it can revive.

People in Hong Kong protesting against a bill that would risk of extradition to China for political crimes. Credits: Reuters

HKmap.live iOS App

The protesters were using HKmap.live which features a map and populates the location of protestors and police using crowdsourcing. The HKmap.live team maintains an instant messaging app Telegram to gather information and updates the map accordingly. After making the app went live for a short time, Apple rejected the app from the App Store.

The HKmap.live team submitted the app on 21 September 2019, and the App Store rejected it after five days. After re-submission to the App Store it was rejected on 2 October 2019 citing “[the app] facilitates, enables, or encourages an activity that is not legal”. According to CNET, this is because of pressure from Asian dragon.


HKmap team officially tweeted this about it:

Politicians in US bashing Apple

The action put Apple under heavy criticism by lawmakers of the Democratic party as well as Republicans. Many of the lawmakers in the US have sided with the protestors in Hong Kong.

“Who is really running Apple? Tim Cook or Beijing?” – Josh Hawley

Senator Ron Wyden said, An authoritarian regime is violently suppressing its own citizens who are fighting for democracy, Apple just sided with them”.

Senator Tom Cotton said, ⁦“Apple⁩ is yet another capitalist who’ll sell rope to communists to hang us”.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted. “Who is really running Apple? Tim Cook or Beijing?”

Senator Rick Scott tweeted, “It’s time for @Apple to stand up to Communist China. American companies should never be censored or told what to do by foreign adversaries”

Tim Cook memo to employees

Taking into consideration the criticism by lawmakers and media Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has written a memo to its employees. In the memo, he talks about Apple’s decision to remove the app as it was “maliciously target individual officers for violence,”

Here is the full text of the memo:

Team,

You have likely seen the news that we made the decision to remove an app from the ‌App Store‌ entitled HKmap.live. These decisions are never easy, and it is harder still to discuss these topics during moments of furious public debate. It’s out of my great respect for the work you do every day that I want to share the way we went about making this decision.

It is no secret that technology can be used for good or for ill. This case is no different. The app in question allowed for the crowdsourced reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots, and other information. On its own, this information is benign. However, over the past several days we received credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being 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. Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our ‌App Store‌ guidelines barring personal harm.

We built the ‌App Store‌ to be a safe and trusted place for every user. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously, and it’s one that we aim to preserve. 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.

Tim

Availability of HKmap.live on Android and Web 

Among the fiasco, the web app is still accessible on the internet and Safari browser of iPhone and other Apple devices. The native app continues to be available on Android.

Taiwan flag removal from Apple’s emoji keyboard

One thing to consider in the chain of events is Apple’s decision to remove the flag of Taiwan from emojis a few days ago as they rolled out the iOS 13.1.1 update. Quartz reported that Apple users in Hong Kong and Macau are not able to see Taiwan’s flag anymore in their emoji keyboard. 

A tweet by TechCrunch editor compares it this way:

And another by Emojipedia

Is Chinese influence impossible to stop?

With the series of Apple actions in favor of China lately, the objections by lawmakers in the US, and the trade war between two countries by Donald Trump; where does the interest of large companies with customers and business in both countries will stand?

Featured image: KIN CHEUNG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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