Apple Inc. and CEO Tim Cook have gone big in efforts to capture consumers and profits in the People’s Republic of China, so the current outrage from the rest of the world over its obedience to the communist government – as it cracks down on dissent – appears to be a minor irritant not worth addressing.
Following the NBA’s cowardice last week – as the normally media-savvy league known for outspokenness against injustice by its executives, coaches and players suddenly turned mute after a pro-Hong Kong tweet outraged the ChiComs – Apple acceded to China’s censorship wishes as well.
This time Cook removed a crowd-sourcing app called HKmap.live from its App Store, following complaints by the government (through its state-run media) that Hong Kong protesters used it to target individual police officers for attacks.
“The app in question allowed for the crowdsourced reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots, and other information,” Cook explained in a memo to Apple employees. “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.”
Most tech-knowledgeable critics, as well as elected officials in Hong Kong and the United States, have found the claims to not be credible.
“The first allegation is that ‘the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence,’” said American web entrepreneur and social critic Maciej Cegłowski, who Gizmodo reports has been in Hong Kong for some time. “This makes no sense at all. The app does not show the locations of individual officers at all. It shows general concentrations of police units, with a significant lag…
“The app aggregates reports from Telegram, Facebook and other sources. It beggars belief that a campaign to target individual officers would use a world-readable crowdsourcing format like this. 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?”
Hong Kong legislator Charles Mok wrote in an open letter to Cook that “I sincerely hope that Apple will choose to support its users and stop banning HKmap.live simply out of political reason [sic] or succumbing to China’s influence like other American companies appear to be doing.” He added that removal of the app harms “citizens trying to avoid police presence while they are under constant fear of police brutality.” He also warned that while Apple may be pleasing its Chinese oppressors, freedom-minded Hongkonger customers were concerned about the company’s handling of the issue.
American political leaders slammed Cook’s decision as well.
“An authoritarian regime is violently suppressing its own citizens who are fighting for democracy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “Apple just sided with them.”
“Apple’s decision to cave to Communist China’s demands is unacceptable,” said Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida in a tweet. “Putting profits above the human rights and dignity of the people of Hong Kong is wrong. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
According to technology editor Daniel Howley of Yahoo! Finance, the Chinese market is more important to Apple’s bottom line than ever. He reported last week that revenues from China accounted for $9.2 billion of the company’s $53 billion in sales in the 3rdquarter of 2019, which is catching up to what Apple takes in from Europe ($11.9 billion). He added that Apple is competing aggressively with China’s own companies, like Huawei, for the customer loyalty with devices and services.
Huawei, ironically, has been banned from doing business in the U.S. by the Trump administration for national security reasons.
Of course this is not the first time Apple has compromised American privacy and free speech at the behest of the communists. Last year the company said it would allow its Chinese customers’ data to be stored on servers in the country that would easily be accessible to the government.
Apple agreed to store encrypted keys used to access customers’ (or, users’) data storage accounts (such as iCloud). “That means Chinese authorities will no longer have to use the U.S. courts to seek information on iCloud users and can instead use their own legal system to ask Apple to hand over iCloud data for Chinese users,” according to Reuters.
The move was said to comply with recently enacted Chinese cybersecurity laws.
And in 2017 Apple removed virtual private networks (VPNs) from its App Store because they allowed Internet users to evade government censorship.
It was also reported just last week that Apple, which is rolling out a new streaming content service similar to Netflix, told its show developers in 2018 not to produce programming that would “portray China in a poor light,” according to Buzzfeed.
Other than the fact that Apple is supposed to be an American company with free-minded values, it otherwise might not be so offensive if Cook wasn’t such a moralizer on U.S. soil about various social issues such as immigration, the gay agenda, and climate change. He also likes to bash Google and Facebook for not respecting the data privacy of their customers.
It’s become clear that Cook has his limits when it comes to “doing what’s right,” as he boasted in April. It goes only as far as the bottom line will allow.