Update: A day after banning HKmap.live, Apple brought it back on the iOS Store after backlash from the general public. Apple told the creators of HKMap, “Congratulations! We’re pleased to let you know that your app, HKmap, has been approved for the App Store. Once your app has been released, it can take up to 24 hours before your app becomes available on the App Store.” In response, creators of HKMap tweeted, “Thanks everyone, Apple finally made the right decision.”
Amid the escalating tensions in Hong Kong, Apple has banned a protest safety app that helps people track locations of the police and the protestors in Hong Kong. HKmap.live is a crowdsourced map that integrates with Telegram and uses emojis to help people track and avoid areas where protesters, police, and traffic are present. It also showcases areas where there is tear gas, mass arrests of people, etc.
According to a tweet, Apple told HKmap.live, “Your app contains content – or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity – that is not legal … Specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement.”
Hong Kong is currently experiencing dangerous clashes between the police and pro-democracy demonstrators and the police are becoming more violent attacking not only protestors but also families, elderly people, and innocent bystanders.
The sole purpose of HKmap.live is to track police activity on the streets of Hong Kong and ‘not to help people navigate to other locations’. The application is used widely by Hong Kong residents who wish to avoid inadvertently wandering into violent situations. The creators of HKmap wrote, “Apple assumes our users are lawbreakers and therefore evading law enforcement, which is clearly not the case.” They argue that other apps such as driving app Waze (which also notes locations of users) should be banned as well.
This can also be Apple’s way of simply avoiding China’s anger. HKMLive wrote on Twitter, “This is getting way more feedback than I expected. To make it clear, I still believe this is more a bureaucratic f up than censorship. Everything can be used for illegal purposes on the wrong hand. Our App is for info, and we do not encourage illegal activity.”
The ban has got people quite angry. Pinboard tweeted, “To deny the people of Hong Kong one of the few tools that defend them against police aggression is such a craven act that I can’t even put it into words. Is Apple going to side with “law enforcement” in every dictatorship on the planet? Is coddling China worth that much to them?” The tweet further adds, “On behalf of tech people in America, I would like to apologize to the people of Hong Kong for this humiliating display by our biggest tech company. These are not the fundamental American values you have in mind when you wave our flag at your protests, and we must do better”
A user wrote on Hacker News, “Really hard to believe that Apple is the “privacy-oriented company we can trust”, that the company constantly touts in their advertising as a reason to buy their products mind you when at the same time, you have news like this constantly coming out.”
Previous to this, Chinese state-run media agencies have also been buying advertisements and promoted tweets on Twitter and Facebook to portray Hong Kong protestors and their pro-democracy demonstrations as violent. These ads, reported by Pinboard’s Twitter account were circulated by State-run news agency Xinhua calling these protesters as those “escalating violence” and calls for “order to be restored.” In reality, Hong Kong protests have been called a completely peaceful march. Pinboard warned and criticized Twitter about these tweets and asked for its takedown.
For now, HKMap.live is also available as a web app, so it can still be used.