By John Gruber
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“Your app contains content — or facilitates, enables, and encourages an activity — that is not legal … specifically, the app allowed users to evade law enforcement,” the American tech giant told makers of the HKmap Live on Tuesday before pulling it.
The makers, and many others, have taken exception to that argument, by pointing out that the app only allows people to note locations - as many countless thousands of other apps do - and so under the same logic, apps such as driving app Waze should also be banned.
To deny the people of Hong Kong one of the few tools that defends them against police aggression is such a craven act that I can’t even put it into words. Is Apple going to side with “law enforcement” in every dictatorship on the planet? Is coddling China worth that much to them?
On behalf of tech people in America, I would like to apologize to the people of Hong Kong for this humiliating display by our biggest tech company. These are not the fundamental American values you have in mind when you wave our flag at your protests, and we must do better.
Hanlon’s Razor — “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” — has never applied to anything more aptly than App Store rejections (although “incompetence” might be a better word than “stupidity”). So I think there’s a good chance that there’s nothing to this other than a bad decision on the part of a rank-and-file App Store reviewer. The HK Map developers think the same thing. (And to be clear, this is a new app that was rejected, it’s not an app that Apple pulled from the App Store. Also, the good news for iPhone-owning Hongkongers is that HK Maps has a good mobile web app.)
But here’s the thing. What’s going on in Hong Kong is important. A small liberal democracy is standing up to a gargantuan authoritarian communist dictatorship with a superpower-grade military force.
Apple is reliant on China in two ways: they manufacture most of their products there, and the Chinese market is roughly equal to all of Europe as Apple’s second biggest for sales. If Apple wants to avoid any suspicion that the company is kowtowing to China, they need to avoid any inadvertent screw-ups in a case like this. Everything related to the App Store approval process that might be perceived as kowtowing to China should receive the utmost scrutiny.
This one doesn’t pass the test.
Update: Good news: the developer of HKmap reports that Apple has approved the app, and it’s now propagating through the App Store. The developer is also asking for donations to defray hosting costs, which, for anonymity, can only be sent via Bitcoin. (An easy, trustworthy way to buy and send Bitcoin is with Square’s Cash app.)