Barely days after getting re-approved on Apple’s App Store, the Cupertino-based tech giant has caved to pressure from Beijing and removed the popular HKmap.live app, which protestors in Hong Kong have been using to track (and avoid) police.
Last week, HKmap was removed from the App Store, although it isn’t known whether this was due to Chinese influence, or just another kink in Apple’s notoriously flaky app approval process. Apps can be denied for a whole host of reasons, including failure to support Apple’s evolving tech standards, adult content, or to comply with local laws. Just as suddenly, HKmap was re-approved late last week, much to the relief of protestors who take to the streets on weekends.
The New York Times reported Wednesday night that Apple pulled the app once more, following the scathing editorial in the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece. The People’s Daily editorial referred to the protestors as “rioters,” and asserted that “letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings.”
Actually, what the app did was allow protestors to protect themselves from a police presence that is becoming increasingly brutal. In recent weeks, the riot police have included growing numbers of Chinese troops from the mainland, who presumably have fewer compunctions about getting rough with Hong Kongers.
In a press release, Apple said about HKmap:
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.
That’s an awfully small fig leaf for a very big issue, akin to banning automobiles for everyone and blaming a few drunk drivers. Will Apple now throw a kill switch on the Mac operating system because some people use it to commit cybercrimes?
Apple’s frenemy in American tech, Google, did likewise, pulling a similar app from the Google Play Store called “The Revolution of Our Times,” using similar justifications. A Google spokesweasel told the Wall Street Journal that the app violated company policy against “capitalizing on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game.” That kind of broad language could be used to pull most any app at almost any time.
Apple and Google’s kowtowing comes in the same week that the NBA lent itself out as a virtual propaganda outlet for the Chinese Communist Party.
When China began its economic liberalization program 30 years ago, complete with entry into the World Trade Organization a few years later, the hope here was that China would export inexpensive consumer goods to the West, and import political liberalization from the West. Instead, China has remained hostile to foreign ideals, while becoming the world’s largest exporter of authoritarianism.
The faster we can safely decouple from Communism, Inc., the better.