Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Tim Cook’s Internal Email Regarding the Removal of HKmap.live App

Tim Cook to Apple employees, as leaked to the app’s developer:

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. […]

When the developer previously submitted the app to the App Store, it was rejected on the basis that the app “facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity that is not legal”. Presumably, that refers to its ability to locate police on a map. If it were “benign” — as Cook says and which I agree with — why was it rejected in the first place?

[…] 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.

Maciej Cegłowski, who has been reporting on the protests from Hong Kong since August, says that this does not comport with what the app actually shows:

Moreover, what are these incidents where protesters have targeted individual police for a premeditated attack? Can Mr. Cook point to a single example? Can anyone?

When Hong Kong police have been in danger, it is invariably because they broke off in small groups into a sea of demonstrators and got separated from their colleagues. I witnessed this personally in Prince Edward on 9/2; many others have seen or videotaped similar situations.

So not only is there no evidence for this claim, but it goes against the documentary record of 18 weeks of protests, and is not even possible given the technical constraints of the app (which tracks groups of police).

Meanwhile, HKmap.live remains available on Google Play stores in Hong Kong and China. Google did remove a game that allows you to role-play as a protester at the behest of the Chinese government.