Tim Cook justifies taking Hong Kong police-tracking app offline in leaked email

Apple CEO Tim Cook
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple CEO Tim Cook is explaining why his company controversially took offline an app meant to help local Hong Kong residents avoid dangerous areas but was also reportedly used by protesters to track police.

His email backs up an earlier statement in which the company claimed that the app was being used to target police, and vandalize areas and people where police were absent, citing info from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau.

The email was acquired and published first by the app’s developers, which Apple later confirmed as authentic to Reuters. Here it is in full:


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.


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HKmap.live’s rebutted Cook’s statement in a Twitter thread, stating there wasn’t evidence to support the CSTCB’s accusations that HKmap App had been used to target and/or ambush police nor to victimize anyone in police-absent areas. Most of the content on the app is user-generated, but allows users to downvote and enables moderators to crack down on content that “solicit, promote, or encourage criminal activity.”

Flip-flopped again

Apple had initially rejected the app in early October, claiming it “allowed users to evade law enforcement”, according to Ars Technica. Critics noted that other apps already do that, like Waze, and the company reversed to approve the app last week.

That drew criticism from China and Hong Kong officials, which reportedly pushed Apple to reverse course yet again and remove HKmap.live from the App Store. 

Via The Verge

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.