Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:
Apple Inc.’s App Store is reviewing a recent decision to reject a Hong Kong app designed to track police activity in the midst of increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in the city.
The app, known as HKmap.live, is a mobile version of a website that helps users avoid potentially dangerous areas, according to the developer, who uses the alias Kuma to remain anonymous. It was rejected from Apple’s App Store because it “facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity that is not legal,” Apple told the developer, according to a copy of the rejection notice seen by Bloomberg News. “Specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement,” Apple wrote.
At this stage, it seems just as likely to me that this rejection was due to an App Review failure as it was a way to appease the Chinese government. Either way, it’s a problem of Apple’s own creation.
If it’s the former, it just goes to show how accurate App Review needs to be, and the gaping chasm between where it is now and where it ought to be. Facebook and Twitter take flak for moderation failures1 on their platforms; Apple’s equivalent is in App Store mistakes. Apps that abuse subscriptions sail through App Review, but this gets summarily blocked? Nonsense.
But if it’s deliberate, it suggests a far worse situation. The reason Apple gave for preventing HKmap.live from being available in the App Store is that it “allowed users to evade law enforcement”. But that’s not its sole purpose:
The developer said the app is built to “show events happening” in Hong Kong, but what users choose to do with that information is their choice. “We don’t encourage any advice on the map in general,” the developer told Bloomberg News. “Our ultimate goal is safety for everyone.”
Plenty of apps could be illegitimately accused of the same thing. As Jane Manchun Wong noted on Twitter, Waze is still available in the App Store, despite alerting users of speed traps and DUI checkpoints. Meanwhile, law enforcement has been complaining that encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and Apple’s own Messages app prevent interception. There are even “vault” calculator apps that are explicitly designed to secrete user data.
What it suggests, then, is that Apple is perhaps complying with oppressive Chinese laws that restrict protestor activity in the “second system” separately-governed region of Hong Kong. This isn’t the first time that Apple has made a decision that gives the appearance of appeasing an authoritarian government that’s important to the company for its sales and manufacturing.
Let’s hope it’s App Review being its unduly sensitive, mistake-ridden self. The other option is unconscionable.
Update: Apple has now approved HKmap.live.