Last week we reported that Apple was reviewing its decision to reject the HKmap Live app from the App Store while it investigated whether the software violates local laws. HKmap Live has been used extensively by pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong to crowdsource information about street closures and police presence.
Apple ultimately approved the app, which has become the most downloaded app under the travel category in the iOS App Store for Hong Kong – a fact that appears to have attracted the ire of the mainland Chinese administration.
On Wednesday, China's state media accused the tech giant of endorsing and protecting "rioters" in Hong Kong's ongoing protests. The condemnation came via the People's Daily, a recognized Chinese Communist party mouthpiece.
The commentary, the print-version of which ran with the headline "Protecting rioters – Has Apple thought clearly about this?", denounced Apple for "allowing the poisonous app to flourish," which it called "a betrayal of the Chinese people's feelings."
It said Apple's approval of HKmap Live, which it did not specifically name, made it an "accomplice" in the protests because it "blatantly protects and endorses the rioters," and questioned what the company's intentions were.
It also criticized Apple for allowing Glory to Hong Kong – an unofficial anthem frequently sung by protesters during the ongoing anti-government movement – to be available for download in the iTunes Store.
The map app is just the tip of the iceberg. In the Apple Music Store in Hong Kong, there was also a song advocating "Hong Kong independence." Such a song was once removed from the music store and has resurrected.
As a company with international influence, Apple has always enjoyed a high reputation. A company has its own standards of conduct, but should also have its social responsibilities. If Apple abandons its responsibilities and let violent acts get worse, it puts more users at risk.
Business is business, and politics is politics. Nobody wants to drag Apple into the lingering unrest in Hong Kong. But people have reason to assume that Apple is mixing business with politics, and even illegal acts. Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision.
While it appears that Apple deemed the HKmap Live app to be legal, it has acted to remove apps from the App Store to abide by Chinese law in the past.
In July 2017, it removed most VPN apps from the App Store in China, following regulations passed earlier in the year that require such apps to be authorized by the Chinese government. Later the same year, Apple removed Skype from the App Store in China to comply with local law.
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