Tim Cook defends removal of Hong Kong Mapping App from App Store in leaked memo

Apple CEO Tim Cook has written to employees defending the company's controversial decision to pull out an app used by Hong Kong protesters to coordinate rallies and avoid high police concentrations.

Apple removed HKMap Live from the App Store on Thursday after the app's approval last week, which came only after an internal review of the company's original decision to reject it. Apple's return came after the Chinese Communist Party's flagship newspaper criticized Apple for allowing the app to enter the store.

In a company-wide memo, where a verified copy has been reproduced on Pastebin, Cook told employees that the decision to remove the app was not easy, but that Apple had received "reliable information" from the Hong Kong police that the app was being used to target individuals for violence. Here is the note in its entirety:


You have probably seen the news that we made the decision to remove an app from ppApp Store‌ titled These decisions are never easy, and it is more difficult to discuss these issues in moments of furious public debate. It is beyond my great respect for the work you do every day that I want to share the way we went about making this decision.

It's no secret that technology can be used for the good or for the sick. This case is no different. The app in question opened up for mass reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots and other information. This information is benign on its own. However, over the past few days, we received reliable information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to sacrifice individuals and properties there no police are present. This use set the app in violation of Hong Kong law. Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates the ‌App Store‌ guidelines that exclude personal injury.

We built ‌App Store‌ to be a safe and reliable place for any user. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously, and that is what we aim to preserve. National and international debates will survive all of us, and although important, they do not govern the facts. In this case, we have thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe that this decision best protects our users.


Cook has since been criticized for his claim that the app is used to target individual police and the public. The developers say HKmap Live is designed to help protesters avoid law enforcement. As such, it does not show individual officers, but only large concentrations of police, which is reflected in the web host version of the app.

In a Twitter post, Charles Mok revealed a developer and member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council that he had written to Cook saying he was "deeply disappointed by Apple's decision to ban the app, and would likes to dispute the claims of the Hong Kong Police Force's Cyber ​​Security and Technology Crime Bureau (CSTBC). "

"There are many cases of innocent passersby in the neighborhood who are harmed by the Kong Kong Police Force's excessive force in crowdfunding operations," he wrote.

"The user-generated information shared using actually helps residents avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activity may be subjected to police brutality as many human rights organizations have observed, such as Amnesty International."

Moks letter went on to note that since the banned app collects real-time reports from Telegram, Facebook and other sources, the same standard should also be used to review these social media apps.

In the United States, lawmakers have also criticized Apple for not advocating democratic values ​​and freedom of speech. "An authoritarian regime violently suppresses its own citizens fighting for democracy," said Democrat Senator Ron Wyden in a tweet. "Apple just sided with them."

"Apple assured me last week that their initial decision to ban this app was a mistake," tweeted Republican Senator Josh Hawley. "Looks like the Chinese censors have had a word with them ever since. Who really runs Apple? ‌ Tim Cook‌ or Beijing?"

At a press conference on Thursday, Hong Kong Secretary of Transportation and Housing was asked by reporters what local laws HKmap Live had violated which led Apple to remove it from the App Store‌, but the official suspended Cupertino: "Oh taking down the app from ‌App Store‌ is the decision made by the carrier – Apple. So if you want to know why they are downloading the app, you may want to contact Apple and Apple Store. "

Apple has so far refused to comment on the matter.

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