Apple said it has reliable information that the hkmap.live app is putting people in danger.
As if piling sandbags before a flood, Apple was well prepared to face a backlash over its decision to remove an app used by Hong Kong protesters.
But the company's carefully worded statement, which offers its reasoning, has left observers, politicians – and some famous Apple supporters – totally unconvinced.
"Apple's decision to give in to the demands of communist China is unacceptable," tweeted Rick Scott, a Republican senator from Florida.
“Putting profits above the human rights and dignity of the people of Hong Kong is wrong. There are no ifs, ands or buts about this.
On Wednesday night, the company began informing journalists of the move, pressuring its view that HKmap.live was "being used in a way that endangers law enforcement and residents."
On Thursday morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an internal memo.
"It is my great respect for the work you do every day that I want to share how we make that decision," he wrote.
“In recent days, we received credible information from the Hong Kong Cyber Security and Technology Crime Department as well as users in Hong Kong that the app was being maliciously used to attack individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property. where no police are present. This use violated Hong Kong law.
"Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our App Store guidelines, preventing personal injury."
John Gruber, Apple's longtime commentator, wrote about Cook's email"I don't remember an Apple memo or statement that crumbles so quickly under scrutiny."
Apple has not yet provided additional information about the alleged incidents. Charles Mok, a Hong Kong lawmaker representing the IT industry in the territory, posted a letter to Cook on Twitter.
HKmap.live app groups information about law enforcement movements
"There are numerous cases of innocent bystanders in the neighborhood injured by the excessive force of the Kong Kong police force in crowd dispersal operations," he wrote.
"Information generated by users shared using HKmap.live actually helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in criminal activity may be subject to police brutality, as many human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, have noted."
Mok argued that users of major social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, also share information about police activity – but are not being kept to the same standard.
"We Hong Kong will definitely look closely at whether Apple chooses to keep its commitment to freedom of expression and other basic human rights or to become an accomplice to Chinese censorship and oppression."
Apple did not respond to the letter.
Censored South Park
Apple's decision is set against the backdrop of major US companies viewed as a political pressure from Beijing.
Last week, the NBA crawled a tweet from a team executive supporting the protests, while video games published by Activision Blizzard banned electronic sports competitor Ng Wai "Blitzchung" Chung for showing his support for the movement.
And Google removed a role-playing game called "Revolution of Our Times" from its app store after finding it violated its "sensitive event" representation policy (the player plays the role of a Hong Kong protester). According to the Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong officials have contacted Google with concerns about this application – although the company said it had decided to take action before any communication.
One obstacle to the trend, however, was via Tim Sweeney, chief executive of Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite online multiplayer.
"Epic supports everyone's right to speak freely" he wrote on Twitterin response to a question about players expressing support for Hong Kong protesters. Chinese technology giant Tencent owns 40% of the company.
"Chinese players at Fortnite are free to criticize the US or Epic just like everyone else," said Sweeney.
In a characteristically shrewd time, an episode of Comedy Central's South Park earlier this month prompted Chinese censors to "exclude virtually all of the show's clips, episodes and online discussions from Chinese streaming services, social media and even web pages. fans, "according to the Hollywood Reporter. .
The episode featured four of the show's main characters working on a movie script that is constantly changed so that it could be distributed in China.
"Well, you know what they say," says the film's director, "You have to lower your freedom ideals if you want to suck up China's hot teat."
In Apple's case, that means revenues are on track to exceed $ 40 billion this year – nearly a fifth of the company's total global sales. Apple's reliance on Chinese manufacturing means the relationship goes much deeper than just local sales. The company has 10,000 direct employees in the company; The economy surrounding Apple's presence in China accounts for about 5 million jobs.
What happens next depends on the extent to which China feels its hard-line stance is working – and there are indications that the authorities are becoming cautious. According to New York Times reportBeijing is concerned that its actions are drawing more attention to the protests and undermining the country's position on the global stage, adding further tension to US relations when trade talks resume in Washington.
The discussions also reinforced concern that China has little doubt when it comes to making demands from companies based in the communist state, as well as those who just want to do business there.
"What would Huawei do if it were a country's dominant 5G provider and that country's leaders said the wrong thing?" speculated Elliott Zaagman, which covers Chinese business and investment,
Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC
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