Apple Inc. and Google both removed apps associated with Hong Kong‘s antigovernment protests from their digital marketplaces, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple removed from its App Store a crowdsourced map service that allowed Hong Kong protestors to track police activity. One day after the removal of the map service, the Chinese Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper lashed out at Apple, calling the app “toxic software.” Apple responded by stating that it removed the app over concerns for the safety of law enforcement and residents.
Google removed from its Google Play store a mobile game that allowed players to role-play as a Hong Kong protestor. Google said the app, called “The Revolution of Our Times,” violated ruled related to “sensitive events.” Google pulled the app after a request from the Hong Kong police. Google affirmed this by stating that policy prohibits developers from “capitalizing on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game,” and that the app was in violation of the policy.
These actions open the companies to criticism from the public that they are siding with Beijing in the debate over Hong Kong’s future. U.S. Senator Josh Hawley already commented on Twitter saying, “Who’s really running Apple? Tim Cook or Beijing?” Tim Cook, Apple Inc. CEO, said that Apple’s decision was difficult an made harder because of the current “furious public debate.”
Google’s presence in China is relatively small. Services such as search, Gmail, and Youtube remained blocked and out of reach for most Chinese citizens. Regardless, U.S. brands will see pushback from consumers in markets outside of China that sympathize with Hong Kong protestors, said Mark Tanner, managing director at China Skinny, a Shanghai-based market-research firm.
Apple and Google have faced criticism for their recent actions and attempt to stay out of the Hong Kong protests, while simultaneously maintaining a neutral position.