(Bloomberg) — Apple (NASDAQ:) has pulled the plug on an app that shows police activity in Hong Kong, reversing course yet again as violent pro-democracy protests wrack the city.
The U.S. company said Thursday it’s now decided to remove HKmap.live from its App Store after consulting with local authorities, because it could endanger law enforcement and city residents. That marks a return to its original position, where it initially rejected the app. After an outcry, the iPhone maker allowed it to run for a few days before Thursday’s decision. The see-sawing is unusual for Apple, which exercises rigid control over its app store, the foundation of its global iPhone ecosystem.
Apple joins other foreign companies struggling to navigate the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong as protests that began in June show no sign of abating. The issue has become a red line for those doing business in China, most recently drawing the National Basketball Association into a firestorm over a tweet that’s caused partners to stop doing business with the league and state television to halt airing its games. A growing number of American giants, including Activision Blizzard Inc (NASDAQ:)., find themselves embroiled in controversies over the extent to which their actions are influenced by economic considerations in a vast Chinese market.
“Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it,” Apple said in a statement. “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.”
Apple’s reversal came after the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper criticized Apple for letting the software through. Protesters in the city used HKmap.live to monitor police whereabouts and it facilitated illegal activities, the People’s Daily said in a commentary late Tuesday. But the app’s developers rejected that view.
“We disagree with Apple’s claim that our app endangered anyone” in Hong Kong, the developer said in a statement.
Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, is Apple’s largest market after its own home country. The iPhone maker is also one of the most visible symbols of corporate America in the world’s No. 2 economy. Apple recently pulled the Taiwan flag emoji from some iPhones, underscoring the difficult balance the company must strike in supporting free speech while appeasing China. Beijing has long been sensitive to how foreign companies portray an island it considers part of its territory.
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