Apple has been accused of “caving to political pressure” after the firm removed a mapping app from its online store linked to protesters in Hong Kong.
Apple removed the HKmap.live app from its App Store saying it had been used to “endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong”.
It comes after the technology giant was criticised by Chinese state media over the presence of the application on its online store.
The app uses crowd-sourcing data to allow users to report police locations, use of tear gas and other details that are added to a regularly updated map.
Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at charity Human Rights Watch said: “It seems that Apple caved to political pressure from the Chinese government again.
“By now, Apple should know that there won’t be an end to the Chinese government’s censorship demands.
“Such unprincipled decisions to aid Beijing’s censorship are only going to further hurt Apple’s reputation as a value-based company.”
The tech giant had initially rejected the app from its store earlier this month before reversing that decision shortly after.
That provoked an angry reaction in China, where one opinion piece in the state-owned People’s Daily newspaper criticised Apple’s stance and accused the firm of “providing a gateway for ‘toxic apps’”.
In a statement, Apple said: “We have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimise residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement.
“This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store.”
Another version of the app is available for smartphones that use the Android operating system, and the platform can also be accessed on a web browser.
Ms Wang suggested Apple had failed to stand up for freedom of speech by removing the app.
“Apple in its statement on the decision to remove the app said that the removal was in response to ‘concerned customers in Hong Kong’ who contacted Apple about the app. This sounds rather disingenuous,” she said.
“As we all know, the decision came shortly after the Chinese state media’s censure of Apple about the app. The statement cited the Hong Kong Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, which is part of the Hong Kong police force, as a source of the complaints. The police is hardly a disinterested party in this dispute.
“Apple should be transparent and fair in its decisions to remove apps and stand up for freedom of speech.”
China is a key area for Apple’s business – the mainland is the technology giant’s second-biggest market after the United States.
Many Apple products are also manufactured in China.
Several other high-profile businesses have been criticised by China for voicing support for the protests, including the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US, which has seen television coverage in China of pre-season games cut after the manager of the Houston Rockets made a comment in support of the protesters.