US lawmakers urge Apple to restore police-tracking app used in Hong Kong

A photo illustration showing a smartphone displaying the HKmap app in Hong Kong, on Oct 10, 2019.
A photo illustration showing a smartphone displaying the HKmap app in Hong Kong, on Oct 10, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A bipartisan group of seven United States lawmakers including Senators Ted Cruz, Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last Friday (Oct 18) urged Apple Inc chief executive Tim Cook to restore the HKMap app used in Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, Apple removed the app that helped Hong Kong protesters track police movements, saying it was used to target officers.

Apple declined to comment.

The group separately wrote Activision Blizzard Inc's chief executive Robert Kotick, calling on him to reverse the company's decision to ban a player who voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Activision Blizzard did not immediately comment last Friday.

"You have said publicly that you want to work with China's leaders to effect change rather than sit on the sidelines and yell at them. We, too, believe that diplomacy and trade can be democratising forces. But when a repressive government refuses to evolve or, indeed, when it doubles down, cooperation can become complicity," the members wrote to Mr Cook.

Apple said on Oct 9 that it had begun an immediate investigation after "many concerned customers in Hong Kong" contacted it about the app and the company found it had endangered law enforcement and residents.

It said the HKMap app "has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimise residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement".

Critics said Apple acted after pressure from Beijing in a commentary in the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper.

 
 
 
 

The lawmakers said Apple has censored at least 2,200 apps in China, citing the non-profit group GreatFire.

Apple's action came amid a furore surrounding the US National Basketball Association after a team official tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests, which led Chinese sponsors and partners to cut ties with the NBA.

Last week, Blizzard reduced the punishment dealt out to Mr Chung Ng Wai, a Hong Kong-based Hearthstone e-sports gamer, for his public support of pro-democracy protests after its decision sparked controversy among players and the public.

Blizzard Entertainment, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, said initially that it would suspend the player from competition for a year and strip him of the prize money.