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article imageOp-Ed: Apple removes Hong Kong map app from its store after criticism

By Ken Hanly     Oct 10, 2019 in Technology
Apple has removed its HKmap live from its App Store. The app is a crowdsourced mapping app used often by Hong Kong residents. The app is used to mark the locations of police as well as street closures during recent protest in Hong Kong.
Apple's policy has flip-flopped
Earlier in October Apple had rejected the HKmap app from its store but then reversed their decision a few days later, however it has now reverted back to rejection. In rejecting the app, Apple issued a statement: "We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place to discover apps. We have learned that an app, HKmap.live, has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong. Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it. The app displays police locations and we have verified 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 victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement. This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store."
The developers of the app claimed that there was no evidence that the app had been used to target and ambush police. The developers noted that the app never promotes or encourages criminal activity but simply aggregates information from user and public sources.
State media criticizes Apple
Bo Lanping in the People's Daily writes: "Apple recently allowed a map app to be available on its App Store. This mobile app claims to provide transportation information for the convenience of the public, but is actually used to identify the whereabouts of the police, allowing the rioters in Hong Kong to go on violent acts. The developers of the map app had ill intentions by providing a “navigation service” for the rioters. Apple’s approval for the app obviously helps rioters. What was its true intention?"
Apple is not consistent in its policy
Apple has not indicated which local laws the HKmap app may violate. Also, the HKmap version is still accessible on the iPhone. Other apps such as Waze that also allows tracking of police checkpoints is still available in the App Store elsewhere.
However, the Google app Waze has raised concerns also outside of China as a recent article notes: "The New York Police Department has sent a letter to Google demanding that it remove drunk-driving checkpoints from its Waze navigation app, as Streetsblog NYC and CBS New York reported earlier today. In the letter, the NYPD writes that “the posting of such information for public consumption is irresponsible since it only serves to aid impaired and intoxicated drivers to evade checkpoints and encourage reckless driving.”"
Authoritarian governments often try to crack down on social media when they face protests as is evident recently in Iraq and also happens in Egypt. China itself bans several social media platforms. It is hardly surprising that China should put pressure on Apple to remove the HKmap. Unfortunately the ban will also keep people from avoiding blocked streets which is surely a useful function with no adverse security aspects. While there is little doubt that protesters find such apps as HKmap useful in protests to ban them is a clear violation of free speech except for those who use the apps to break the law. They should be charged. However, that is too difficult a task for many authorities apparently who would rather just ban the apps.
Not just authorities themselves but social media such as Facebook also may be controlling social media by what is in effect a form of censorship under the guise of deleting fake accounts or accounts that violate community standards.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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