Under Apple's rules and policies, apps that meet its standards to appear in the App Store have sometimes been removed after their release if they were found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety.
Just days after Blizzard caught fire for removing an esports player for saying "Liberate Hong Kong", "Revolution of our age!" during a live stream, Apple is now under attack for removing two apps connected to the Hong Kong movement.
Apple yanked an app from its Chinese app store after the country accused the tech giant of giving pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong a tool to track and "ambush" police.
Apple also removed the app for U.S. publication Quartz late on Wednesday from its Chinese App Store.
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam introduced emergency laws last Friday, banning face masks that protesters use to shield their identities, in an effort to quell unrest. According to the app's developers, pro-democracy protestors, journalists, and even Hong Kong government supporters have been using HKmap.live to navigate the city as large-scale political protests continue. Apple recently pulled the Taiwan flag emoji from some iPhones, underscoring the hard balance the company must strike in supporting free speech while appeasing China.
"Such unprincipled decisions to aid Beijing's censorship are only going to further hurt Apple's reputation as a value-based company". Apple is is understood to have previously rejected the app, but reversed that decision, and began hosting it from October 4.
Apple said in a statement it began an immediate investigation after "many concerned customers in Hong Kong" contacted the company about the app, and Apple found it had endangered law enforcement officers and residents. "At a press conference today, Hong Kong authorities didn't know either, and deferred all questions on the matter to Apple".
On Wednesday, People's Daily Online, the state-run news outlet of the Communist Party, blasted Apple for providing access to the app. "Business is business, and politics is politics". Quartz has been reporting on the protests in Hong Kong continuously for months.
Cheung said the government's operations were not aimed at stopping protests, but violence. Apple did not clarify how the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau verified these claims with them.
"Apple should be transparent and fair in its decisions to remove apps and stand up for freedom of speech".
Apple, headquartered in Cupertino, California, also is an important asset for China.
Neither China's foreign ministry nor the information office of the State Council had an immediate comment when asked about the HKmap.live app removal.
Hong Kong is still recovering from a long weekend of violent clashes between police and tens of thousands of protesters.
Apple's action has come amid a furor surrounding the US National Basketball Association after a team official tweeted in support of the protests in Hong Kong, which led Chinese sponsors and partners to cut ties with the NBA.