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Politics

Apple defends its fold on Hong Kong app as backlash mounts

US lawmakers press NBA to boycott the boycott in China

Apple last week reversed its initial rejection of HKmap.live from its App Store, only to reverse its decision again days later after pressure from China.   © Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Apple CEO Tim Cook on Thursday explained the company's removal of a map app used in the Hong Kong protests from its App Store, following criticism of the American technology giant's perceived bowing to pressure from Beijing.

The company has "thoroughly" reviewed the facts surrounding HKmap.live -- which provides crowdsourced information on police checkpoints, among other things -- and the decision to pull the app "best protects our users," Cook told employees in an internal message.

Apple received "credible information" that "the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present," he wrote.

HKmap.live tweeted Thursday that there is zero evidence to support such accusations. Hong Kong information technology legislator Charles Mok had earlier urged Cook to "stop banning HKmap.live simply out of political reason or succumbing to China's influence like other American companies appear to be doing."

As the protests in Hong Kong rage on, U.S. businesses increasingly walk a tightrope with the Chinese market on one side and public opinion elsewhere on the other.

Just last week, Apple reversed an earlier decision to reject HKmap.live from its App Store -- only to be harshly rebuked by the People's Daily, China's flagship state newspaper. Thursday's removal of the app drew immediate reprimands from Washington.

"An authoritarian regime is violently suppressing its own citizens who are fighting for democracy," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden tweeted Thursday. "Apple just sided with them."

Greater China is a key market for Apple, contributing 17% of its total sales in the quarter ended June 29. The company defines the region as mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The National Basketball Association, which was ensnared in a similar controversy over a team manager's support for the Hong Kong protests and a subsequent apology to China from the league, on Tuesday defended freedom of expression for team employees and other affiliated figures.

Not all U.S. lawmakers were appeased. In a Wednesday letter to the sports league, eight including Wyden, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it "outrageous" that "the NBA has caved to Chinese government demands for contrition."

The letter also urged the NBA to suspend activities in the Chinese market until Beijing ends its boycott of the league.

Jewelry seller Tiffany & Co., game developer Blizzard and footwear maker Nike have also been caught up in Chinese outrage over Hong Kong-related issues.

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