SAN FRANCISCO [Reuters] – Apple removed an application on Wednesday that allowed Hong Kong protesters to track down the police, a day after facing intense criticism from Chinese state media over it, plunging the technology giant into the complicated policies of a country that is critical to your business. .
Apple said it was removing the app, called HKmap.live, from its App Store just days after approving it, because Hong Kong officials said protesters were using it to attack police in the semi-autonomous city.
A day earlier, People's Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper, published an editorial accusing Apple of helping "protesters" in Hong Kong. "Letting poisonous software go its way is a betrayal of the feelings of the Chinese people" said the article, which was written under a pseudonym that translates to "Calming the waves."
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Apple said: “The app displays police sites and we checked with the Hong Kong Cyber Security and Technology Crime Department that the app was used to attack and ambush police, threaten public safety and criminals. used to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement. This app violates our local guidelines and laws. "
With the reversal, Apple joins a growing list of companies trying to navigate the political situation between China and Hong Kong, where anti-government protests have been going on for months.
[See how the Hong Kong protests evolved into a broader reaction against Beijing.]
This minefield was evident this week when the NBA was drawn to tensions by a Houston Rockets executive who tweeted his support for the Hong Kong protests. The tweet sparked a backlash from Chinese authorities, leading to apologies for the Rockets and ultimately the cancellation of N.B.A. broadcasts. games in China, which is one of the largest markets in N.B.A.
Companies ranging from Marriott to United Airlines and Versace have also had to backtrack on past negligence perceived by the Chinese government, such as customer surveys suggesting that Taiwan was an independent country. All companies are having to balance China's huge economic opportunity with its 1.4 billion consumers with the negative public image of capitulating to an authoritarian government.
No multinational company has as much at stake in China as Apple. The Silicon Valley giant assembles almost all of its products in China and considers the country its number 3 market after the United States and Europe. Almost $ 44 billion in sales were recorded in the large region of China, including Taiwan and Hong Kong, in the 12 months ending June 30. Apple's stock price generally rises or falls, depending on China's performance.
Timothy D. Cook, Apple's CEO, became a skilled diplomat in China. He traveled there frequently and participated in various events of the Chinese government. In recent months, Cook has defended the moderation of the US-China trade war. Unlike the United States, where he often talks about political issues such as gun control and immigration, he has remained silent about Chinese politics, including clashes in Hong Kong.
In late 2017, Cook told a conference that while disagreeing with some Chinese policies, Apple must comply with local laws. “Each country in the world decides its laws and regulations, so your choice is: do you participate? Or do you stand in the sideline and shout how things should be? ", He said. "You enter the arena because nothing changes from the sideline."
Given Apple's stature as one of the world's most valuable public companies, its shares in China are closely watched. Maya Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in China in Hong Kong, said Apple's decision to remove the app from Hong Kong would encourage the Chinese Communist Party.
"I think the party concludes from this that bullying, harassment and pressure work for most people in most places," she said.
A Twitter account claiming to have been managed by the developer of HKmap.live said in a brief exchange on Wednesday that Apple's reasoning for removing the app – that protesters were using it to attack police – was false.
"This is ridiculous," said the account manager, who declined to provide a name or further details. HKmap.live's Twitter account later tweeted that "it would never solicit, promote or encourage criminal activity."
The HKmap.live app shows a map of Hong Kong with user updates about police location, water cannons and safe zones, among other things. Apple initially rejected the app for allowing users to evade the police, the app's Twitter account said last week. A few days later, the account tweeted that Apple had reversed the course and approved the app. The app soon became the most downloaded travel app in Hong Kong – and criticism from mainland China began.
Following the People's Daily editorial, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said "Anyone with conscience and sense of justice" must boycott the app.
Supporters of the app argued that it helps Hong Kong residents avoid clashes between police and protesters.
Apple also pulled the app from the Quartz news organization from the App Store in China less than two weeks ago. Quartz, which has been covering Hong Kong protests, said Apple sent a vague warning about the removal of the app "because it includes illegal content in China." Apple has not clarified which content was illegal, Quartz said. A quartz editor tweeted that Apple removed it "at China's request. "
Quartz chief executive Zach Seward said in a statement: "We abhor this kind of government censorship on the Internet and we have wide coverage of how to circumvent these bans worldwide" and included a link to your articles about software designed to avoid censorship.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the Quartz app on Wednesday.
Apple has removed other applications in China that it allows elsewhere, including The New York Times and some services that have allowed Chinese users to circumvent government internet restrictions.
Apple has long prided itself on how all apps on the App Store are approved by one of its employees, unlike Google's widely automated approach to Android phones. Apple employs teams of application reviewers who must meet quotas to review applications, including dozens of Chinese language experts, according to former application reviewers. Apps that pose complicated political issues are deliberated at weekly meetings of a senior executive review board led by Phil Schiller, a long-time Apple executive who heads the App Store.