Apple CEO Tim Cook Defends Blacklisting Hong Kong Protest Tracking App

Apple CEO Tim Cook has defended the company’s decision to blacklist an app tracking Hong Kong protest and police activity. One Hong Kong legislative counselor commented, “We Hongkongers will definitely look closely at whether Apple chooses to uphold its commitment to free expression and other basic human rights, or become an accomplice for Chinese censorship and oppression.”

Bloomberg reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook has defended the company’s decision to remove the HKmap.live app from its store, stating that they had received “credible information” from authorities that the software was being used “maliciously” to attack police.

The company has flip-flopped repeatedly on whether the app should be allowed in the store, initially telling developers: “Your app contains content – or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity – that is not legal … specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement,” and banning the app.

Following an outcry over the initial banning, the app was reinstated to Apple’s store. Now, following criticism from the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, The People’s Daily, which stated that the app “facilitates illegal behavior,” leading it to question if Apple was “guiding Hong Kong thugs,” The Silicon Valley Masters of the Universe have once against bowed to the wishes of communist China and removed the app.

Cook wrote in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News: “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.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), criticized Apple stating: “Apple’s decision to cave to Communist China’s demands is unacceptable. Putting profits above the human rights and dignity of the people of Hong Kong is wrong. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Cook addressed criticism the firm has received for removing the app stating: “These decisions are never easy, and it is harder still to discuss these topics during moments of furious public debate. 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.”

Charles Mok, a legislative counselor in Hong Kong, stated that Apple’s decision had left him “deeply disappointed” and contested the company’s reason for removing the app in an open letter to Cook. “There are numerous cases of innocent passersby in the neighbourhood injured by the Hong Kong Police Force’s excessive force in crowd dispersal operations,” Mok wrote in the letter. “The user-generated information shared using HKmap.live in fact helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activities might be subjected to police brutality which many human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have observed.”

Mok continued to state: “We Hongkongers will definitely look closely at whether Apple chooses to uphold its commitment to free expression and other basic human rights, or become an accomplice for Chinese censorship and oppression.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated Beijing’s stance when questioned about Apple’s removal of the app stating: “Recent events in Hong Kong are extreme, violent acts, challenging Hong Kong’s rule of law and order, threatening the safety of Hong Kong’s people, damaging Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity. We should oppose such violence instead of supporting or condoning them.”

Tim Cook told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in a December 2017 letter: “We believe our presence in China helps promote greater openness and facilitates the free flow of ideas and information. We are convinced that Apple can best promote fundamental rights, including the right of free expression, by being engaged even where we may disagree with a particular country’s law.”

What Cook failed to mention is that the firm generates $44 billion in sales in China every year, pulling out of the country entirely could be catastrophic for the firm. China is also the primary manufacturer of Apple products such as iPhones, it seems extremely unlikely that the firm would leave behind its vast network of suppliers and assemblers who build hundreds of millions of iPhones for the company every year.

Tim Cook’s full recent memo can be read below:

Team,

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.

Breitbart News will continue to report on Apple’s actions in Hong Kong and China.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com