Apple customers closely following the growth of the Hong Kong protests contain lately observed that Apple has quietly removed two apps widely outdated-fashioned by pro-democracy protestors from its China App Store: a news app by Quartz, which has lined the protests broad for months, and a neighborhood app called HKmap.stay outdated-fashioned for monitoring right-time state hotspots within the city. The app used crowdsourcing to track the location of protestors and police officers in real time. Activists say China is trying to end the partial self-rule promised in 1997 when Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China.
Responding via its official Twitter account, the app's developer stated the app had never solicited, promoted, or encouraged criminal activities. Apple said the vast majority of these apps were for porn and gambling, but it has also removed an unspecified number of virtual private networking and news apps. "This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store", the company said.
Apple was under fire this week after banning an app that tracked the location of both police and protesters in Hong Kong on a live map.
It is a delicate balancing act for Apple, which has long trumpeted its liberal and progressive credentials.
Others have noted the apparent double standards at play.
Cook is an outspoken advocate for a range of issues, including gay rights, privacy and the "moral obligation" to protect undocumented migrants to the U.S. known as "Dreamers".
As the protests in Hong Kong rage on, US businesses increasingly walk a tightrope with the Chinese market on one side and public opinion elsewhere on the other.
The episode has prompted critics to accuse the company of hypocrisy.
Hundreds of protesters barricaded a road in Kowloon and lobbed petrol bombs at a train station, "posing a threat to the safety of citizens", police said on their Facebook page, but causing no injuries.
The tension has highlighted some US firms' dependence on China while raising questions about their willingness to compromise on values such as freedom of expression to continue doing business in the country, where authorities tolerate no criticism of the ruling party.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has spent much of the past year walking a thin line, trying to prod a truce between the USA and China while also trying to protect his company's interests.
Prominent Hong Kong legislator and IT entrepreneur Charles Mok has warned that Apple risks becoming an accomplice for "censorship and oppression" in China. That would translate into a loss of $6 billion to $12 billion in a single year, based on Apple's profits last year. The iPhone maker has pitched itself in the country as a high-end, aspirational brand offering smartphones, laptops and tablet devices for the country's growing middle class.
Apple too has a lot to lose if it mucks it up with China.
Those sympathetic to Apple's stance point out that plenty of companies adhere to similar standards in the west.
The wearing of face masks was banned under colonial-era emergency powers invoked by embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam a week ago. "China is just particularly sharp and sensitive".
"We just get a phone call from Apple and they say "We just got a call from the Chinese government" and five minutes later our app is off the App Store", one United States technology executive told BuzzFeed News. It had previously been rejected for placement in the App Store as recently as last week but the company reversed the decision on Friday, making it available for a short window before taking it down this Thursday 10 October.