Apple kicked up a firestorm on Wednesday when it decided to boot a mapping app called HKmap.live that protestors in Hong Kong have been using to keep tabs on police from the App Store.
The decision came a day after the main newspaper of the Communist Party in China (People’s Daily) published a screed blasting Apple as being on the side of “rioters” in the area. “Letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings,” the article reads. On Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to Apple employees defending the removal, lamenting that decisions like these “are never easy,” and that Apple has received “credible information” that the app is being used to target individual officers for violence.
Unfortunately, Tim’s email doesn’t provide any additional clarity or evidence to support those claims that at this point seem largely to be voiced by Chinese media.
Apple is the latest example of an American company to get caught up in the messy, complicated politics of China and Hong Kong, as the NBA and game company Blizzard have found themselves entangled as well.
The full text of Tim Cook’s email can be seen below:
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.
The email was initially shared by the developer of HKmap.live via an anonymous Pastebin, but the accuracy of the email has since been verified by John Gruber, who said he saw a copy of the same email.