Apple threatened to ban this app
CHINA has called on Apple to ban an app from its store that Hong Kong protesters are using to avoid police during long-running and increasingly violent protests.
HKmap.live uses crowdsourced data to share information on the location of police cars and armed officers, as well as spots where police and protesters have clashed.
A column from the Chinese People's Daily "newspaper" written by Bo Lanping, who Hong Kong's South China Morning Post alleges is a pen name recently adopted to exclusively comment on the Hong Kong unrest (the name translates to "calming the waves"), accused Apple of helping "rioters".
"If Apple abandons its responsibilities and let violent acts get worse, it puts more users at risk," the column reads.
"Nobody wants to drag Apple into the lingering unrest in Hong Kong," the paper said, doing so, "But people have reason to assume that Apple is mixing business with politics, and even illegal acts. Apple has to think about the consequences of its unwise and reckless decision.
"Apple's approval for the app obviously helps rioters. What was its true intention?" the column asks.
Retracting the classification of Hong Kong protesters as rioters is one of their five key demands.
The People's Daily column threatens Apple that "only the prosperity of China and China's Hong Kong will bring them a broader and more sustainable market" in calling for the company to remove the app.
It doesn't mention HKmap has been available on Google's Play Store app marketplace since mid-September, likely due to it and other Google services being banned in China.
Google services are however available to Hong Kongers as well as residents of other non-mainland Chinese regions Macau and Taiwan.
The Google Play Store version of the app has been installed on more than 10,000 devices so far.
While Apple doesn't publicly show how many times an app has been downloaded, the iOS app and a second version of it in Cantonese both have several reviews, though few of them relate to the actual performance of the app itself.
"A fantastic application with great features … Glory to thee Hong Kong! Five demands, NOT one less," reads one review from a user with the display name Free Hong Kong.
"Very disappointed. How dare you! It is widely acknowledged that HK is part of China. You should not allow this app to release. It is unacceptable. Hope that you would loose [sic] the Chinese market," reads another from a user with a display name consisting of two emojis of a dog and poo.
"Never use Apple's product from now on!!!!!!!!!!" said a user with display name that said the same thing.
Both apps are ranked in the mid-two stars range, due to ratings skewing almost exclusively to five stars or one.
Both iOS apps have notched up 128 ratings between them since going live on October 5.
The gap between the apps going live on the two marketplaces is believed to be due to Apple's review process.
The process is designed to ensure apps work well on its devices and don't contain any security vulnerabilities, but it can lead to a delay in apps being published.
According to the map's Twitter account, Apple initially rejected the application before eventually allowing it onto the store.
"Your app contains content - or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity - that is not legal ... Specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement."@Apple assume our user are lawbreakers and therefore evading law enforcement, which is clearly not the case.— HKmap.live 全港抗爭即時地圖 (@hkmaplive) October 1, 2019
Similar apps such as Waze have been on the App Store for years and provide similar information.
CHINA'S SIZE HAMSTRINGING BUSINESSES
China's threat to Apple comes as big multinational brands look to avoid offending the country's large population (and by extension, market).
American video game company Blizzard Entertainment, of which Chinese tech giant Tencent is a partial owner, recently banned a professional gamer from competing in its tournaments and stripped him of prize money after he voiced his support for the protesters.
America's NBA basketball league, which in the past has made a point of supporting the rights of its players to engage in political protest, has been in damage control after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support.
The NBA released a statement saying it recognised the views expressed by Mr Morey "have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable".
The league commissioner Adam Silver later supported Mr Morey's right to "exercise his freedom of expression" but the NBA has begun haemorrhaging Chinese sponsors, and local broadcasters have dropped coverage.
Before the controversy, the Rockets had a healthy following in China, thanks to the success of former superstar Chinese player Yao Ming, who spent the entirety of his nine-year NBA career in Houston.
Jeremy Lin, the first American of Chinese descent to play in the NBA, also spent a number of years at the Rockets.
Apple is yet to respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.
Do you think companies should support free speech or should they just stick to running their business? Let us know in the comments below.