Apple CEO Tim Cook has sent an email to employees with a lengthier explanation for why the company chose to remove HKmap.live from the App Store yesterday. Similar to Apple’s statement last night, Cook claims that the app — a crowdsourced mapping tool that’s become useful amid the ongoing protests in Hong Kong — was being misused in ways that could threaten public safety.
“The app in question allowed for the crowdsourced reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots, and other information,” Cook wrote. “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.”
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.
Cook’s email doesn’t offer any specifics on these incidents where HKmap.live was supposedly used to target individual police officers. It’s an alarming scenario, as is the idea that people would use the mapping app nefariously to pounce on areas with low police presence. But it’s mostly been state-run media in China pushing these frightening reports so far.
HKmap.live’s developers have pushed back against Apple’s claims and reiterated that the app aggregates and consolidates information from users, news sources, and social networks like Facebook and Telegram. HKmap.live never displays a lack of police on its map, only areas where they’ve congregated.
5. Most of the contents are user-generated, and we allow users to down vote for moderator review. Moderator will delete contents that “solicit, promote, or encourage criminal activity”. Repeated attempt will be banned.
— HKmap.live 全港抗爭即時地圖 (@hkmaplive) October 10, 2019
Apple’s decision has been met with harsh criticism (including from lawmakers), but Cook’s email doesn’t offer any sign that the company is reconsidering. It initially pulled HKmap.live from the App Store earlier this month only to say that the removal was a mistake. But after briefly restoring it, Apple pulled down the app again last night and offered the reasoning that Cook has now doubled down — without providing any examples of unlawful incidents that HKmap.live has helped facilitate.
As of now, the app continues to function for people who already have it installed on their iPhones, but it cannot be redownloaded from Apple.