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Tim Cook defends Apple’s decision to remove Hong Kong protest app

Apple CEO Tim Cook has sent an email to employees with a lengthier explanation for why the company chose to remove HKmap.live from the App Store yesterday. According to Reuters, Cook said Apple based the decision on “credible information” from Hong Kong police and Apple users. Those sources said the app was used to “maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present.” That kind of behavior would violate App Store guidelines prohibiting personal harm.

Cook’s full email is 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.

Tim

Critics argue that the app does not show the location of individual officers, so it could not be used to target law enforcement as Cook described. They say there’s no evidence that the app has been used to threaten police or public safety and that apps like Waze, which crowdsources information about police locations are still in the App store. So, while Cook was likely hoping to set the record straight and quell the controversy, plenty of people are still upset with the decision.

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