SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc on Wednesday removed an app used by protesters in Hong Kong to track police movements from its app store, saying it broke rules because it was used to restrain police.
The US tech giant had come under fire from China over the app, with the Chinese Communist Party official newspaper calling the app "toxic" and rebuking what it said as Apple's involvement in helping Hong Kong protesters.
Apple had just last week approved the HKmap.live app, which collects the source of both police and protesters, after rejecting it earlier this month.
In a statement, Apple said it had started an instant investigation after "many concerned customers in Hong Kong" contacted the company about the app and Apple found that it had threatened law enforcement and residents.
“The app shows police locations, and we have confirmed with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety and criminals have used it to make victims victims in areas where they know that there is no law enforcement, ”the statement states.
Apple did not comment beyond the statement. The company also removed BackupHK, a separate app that served as a mirror for the main HKlive.map app. Hong Kong police had no immediate comment.
On Twitter, an account believed to be owned by the developer of the HKlive.map app said it disagreed with Apple's decision, and there was no evidence to support the Hong Kong police's claims that the app had been used in ambush.
The app consolidated content from public posts on social networks and that moderators would delete content that requested criminal activity and would prohibit repeated attempts to post such content in the app, it states.
“The majority of user reviews (s) in the App Store. .. suggest HKmap IMPROVED public safety, not the other way around, ”it added.
In a separate move, Apple also removed the Quartz news app from the App Store in China because Chinese authorities said the app was in violation of local laws.
Quartz Chief Executive Zach Seward told technology publication The Verge in a statement: "We hate this type of government censorship of the internet and have great coverage of how we can get around such bans around the world."
ANGER IN HONG KONG
The HKlive.map app was removed from the Apple app store globally, but continued to work for users who had previously downloaded it in Hong Kong, Reuters found. An online version was also still visible on iPhones.
On Tuesday, People's Daily said that Apple had no sense of right and wrong, ignoring the truth. Making the app available on Apple's Hong Kong App Store at this time was to "open the door" to violent protesters in the former British colony, the newspaper wrote.
According to Apple's rules and policies, apps that meet the standards for appearing in the App Store have sometimes been removed after release if found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety.
In 2011, Apple changed its app store to remove apps that listed locations for drunk driving checkpoints not previously published by the government.
The word about the removal of the HKmap.live app spread rapidly in Hong Kong.
"Must the whole world suck up to the garbage communist party?" Said a commentator called Yip Lou Jie in a web forum, LIHKG, used by protesters in Hong Kong.
Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Additional reporting by Greg Mitchell in San Francisco and John Ruwitch in Hong Kong; Editing by Edwina Gibbs