HONG KONG (AP) — Under pressure from China, Apple has removed a smartphone app that enabled Hong Kong protesters to track police, cut access in mainland China to a news app that covered anti-government demonstrations, and made it harder to find an emoji representing the Taiwanese national flag.
The tech company’s latest capitulations to China’s ruling Communist Party have alienated some Hong Kong consumers and angered democracy activists around the world. But the truth is, few U.S. companies have as much business tethered to China as Apple.
“That’s the price you pay if you want to be in the market,” said Matt Schrader, an analyst for the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund.
Apple relies on Chinese factories to assemble iPhones, which generate most of its profits. Apple has also cultivated a loyal following in China, its third-largest market behind the U.S. and Europe.
President Trump’s trade war with China also complicates things for Apple, which worries Beijing will try to hurt it in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese products and sanctions against telecommunications giant Huawei. And Trump has promised another round of import duties in December.
Analysts estimate $6 billion to $12 billion a year is at stake for Apple.
On Thursday, Apple defended its pulling of HKmap.live from its app store. For some, it was a way to avoid the violence, tear gas and police ID checks. But, the company said, the app “has been used to target and ambush police” and to “threaten public safety,” and it “violates our guidelines and local laws.”
One app user, Hong Kong office worker Acko Wong, 26, scoffed at the suggestion that it helped criminals.
“How do you ambush a group of police with equipment and gear like helmets and shields?” he asked.