Apple bows to Beijing’s pressure . . .
Apple removed HKmap.live from its App Store on Wednesday, just days after approving it. HKmap.live crowdsources the locations of protests and police officers in real time to help people in Hong Kong avoid interactions with law enforcement. Apple, justifying the app’s removal, said that Hong Kong’s Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau confirmed that HKmap.live had in fact been used to mount attacks on police. Apple also removed the mobile app for Quartz, a news publication, after receiving complaints that it ran content that was “illegal” in China. Taiwan’s flag emoji was also removed from Apple’s latest iOS 13 in both Hong Kong and Macau.
Different ‘internets’ . . .
In its early days, the internet was expected to be a shared space where people around the world could express their thoughts freely. However, the space today is increasingly shaped by tech companies and political fault lines. In North America, Apple’s App Store and Google Play compete for most of the app market share. In China, however, Beijing imposes severe restrictions on Apple and bans Google altogether. As a result, the app store space looks very different in China, with Tencent My App (26 per cent), Huawei App Market (13 per cent), and Oppo Software Store (12 per cent) claiming half of the market. The other half is claimed by their 400 competitors, a stark contrast to the Apple-Google duopoly in North America.
Bigger trends at play . . .
Apple’s decision this week highlights that an ‘internet with Chinese characteristics’ is expanding beyond Mainland China. Hong Kong has enjoyed relative internet freedom, but Beijing is clearly tightening its grip. Apple’s capitulation also demonstrates multinational corporations’ vulnerability to pressures from Beijing. For instance, China accounts for more than 15 per cent of Apple’s global sales, making it difficult for the company to reject Beijing’s demands. Indeed, the internet – or internets – today is looking very different from what its early champions had imagined.
- Foreign Affairs: When China rules the web
- The New York Times: Apple removes app that helps Hong Kong protesters track the police
- The Verge: Apple removes Quartz news app from the Chinese App Store over Hong Kong coverage