Apple has booted an app used by protesters in Hong Kong out of the App Store. Called Hkmap Live, the crowdsourced app uses reports from a Telegram group that tracks the whereabouts of police and protesters. It also contains information about things like arrests of people wearing protest-related paraphernalia and the use of weapons like tear gas.
“Your app contains content – or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity – that is not legal,” Apple told the app makers. “Specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement.”
As a report for The Register notes, the app contains multiple messages related to police intelligence. “Four flashing lights parked at the police station door,” reads one such message.
However, the app makers seem confident that Apple might reverse its ruling. “To make it clear, I still believe this is more a bureaucratic F-up than censorship,” one notes on Twitter. “Everything can be used for illegal purpose on the wrong hand. Our app is for info, and we do not encourage illegal activity.”
Hong Kong protests
Whether that washes with Apple remains to be seen. A bit like a version of Waze, but dealing with protest rather than traffic, an argument could be made that this is for regular folks to avoid getting caught up in the situation. No-one goes on Waze looking to find traffic; only to avoid it. However, it is obvious that this is not the only group of people who would be using Hkmap Live. (While Apple has removed the app, it’s worth noting that the tool can still be accessed via a web app.)
The Hong Kong protests kicked off in March 2019, although they have intensified over time. They are a series of demonstrations, more formally known as the the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement opposing legislation proposed by the Hong Kong government.
It’s not clear whether Apple has received any pressure over the Hong Kong protesters’ app. In the past, Apple has been forced to pull several apps because they contravened Chinese laws. For instance, in late 2017 Apple pulled Skype and certain other VPN apps from the App Store. “We have been notified by the Ministry of Public Security that a number of voice over internet protocol apps do not comply with local law,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement at the time.
Apple has also been forced to accept the Chinese government’s demands that it run network safety evaluations on all imported products. In addition, it had to move Chinese iCloud accounts over to a data center controlled by a Chinese company.