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Tim Cook says removal of Hong Kong mapping app is because “technology can be used for good or for ill”

HKmap.live is a web mapping service based on crowdsourcing, and was recently taken down from the App Store by Apple. According to a Tweet, the reasoning behind that was that the app was used to “evade law enforcement”, although Apple then reversed its decision a couple of days later.

However, it appears that the folks at Apple have changed their mind yet again, and pulled the app from its store amidst accusations that users have been using the app to “target and ambush police”. In a statement, the company further explained that these accusations have been verified by the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, and as such, violates their guidelines.

Despite a series of Tweets being posted from HKmap.live that categorically denies the claims, a leaked memo from Tim Cook to Apple employees has also been making the rounds. Among other things, Cook refers to the power of technology to be used for “good or for ill”, and the “credible” information that Apple has received from Hong Kong authorities that the app helps users to “victimise individuals”.

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The memo, which was initially published by the developers of HKlive.map, reads as follows:

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

Of course, due to the situation currently ongoing in Hong Kong right now, and the sensitive nature of alleged China-ordered censorship, claims that Apple is bowing to pressure from political forces don’t appear to be totally unfounded. If anything, more information regarding these allegations that the app is used for illegal purposes would go some way to allaying fears that Apple isn’t getting sucked into a political issue—one that it should have no part of.

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The app may be unavailable on the App Store, but iOS users can still access it on web browsers; the app is still up on the Google Play Store, as well.

[ VIA ]