Tim Cook says decision to ban Hong Kong protest app ‘best protects’ users in employee memo

In a new memo to employees obtained by Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook is defending Apple’s decision to remove the HKmap.live app from the App Store. Cook says the decision was based on “credible information” from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau and users in Hong Kong.

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Cook acknowledges that these types of decisions “are never easy” especially when they come “during moments of furious public debate.” The Apple CEO says that the actual information provided by the app is “benign,” but that things changed over the last several days.

The HMmap.live application provided information about the location of protests and police activity. According to Cook, this information was being used to “maliciously” target officers and other people who weren’t protected by police:

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.

Cook’s explanation in the memo to employees is unlikely to satisfy the many people upset with Apple’s decision. Nonetheless, Cook says that the App Store is designed “to be a safe and trusted place for every user,” and that this decision “best protects our users.”

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