Tiim Cook on stage at iPhone 11 event

What you need to know

  • A leaked memo shows Tim Cook defending the removal of the HKmap.live app.
  • The app was removed from the Chinese App Store for promoting "illegal activity".
  • Cook believes that the decision "best protects our users".

Today, Tim Cook has addressed the controversy around the removal of the HKmap.live app from the Chinese App Store. Reported by Bloomberg, the CEO sent a memo to employees explaining their process and why they determined that the app need to be removed.

According to the memo, Cook defends Apple's decision and explains that it was not the functionality of the app itself, which allowed users to report information such as police checkpoints and protest hotspots, but what the app was being used for that led it its removal:

"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..."

The app has gone through a number of changing decisions from Apple. It had originally been taken down on October 3rd, then restored on October 4th, and then re-banned again this morning. With Tim Cook now weighing in and backing the ban, it seems that this decision from Apple is now final. Cook recognizes that the decision will draw criticism in the memo, writing:

"These decisions are never easy, and it is harder still to discuss these topics during moments of furious public debate...National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts. In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users."

Here's is the full draft of the memo:

"Team,

You have likely seen the news that we made the decision to remove an app from the App Store entitled HKmap.live. These decisions are never easy, and it is harder still to discuss these topics during moments of furious public debate. It's out of my great respect for the work you do every day that I want to share the way we went about making this decision.

It is no secret that technology can be used for good or for ill. This case is no different. The app in question allowed for the crowdsourced reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots, and other information. 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.

We built the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for every user. It's a responsibility that we take very seriously, and it's one that we aim to preserve. National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts. In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users.

Tim"