Apple removes police-tracking app used in Hong Kong protests from its app store

1 / 2
Apple said the smartphone app HKmap.live has been used to target and ambush police. (AFP)
2 / 2
The Apple app HKmap.live uses crowdsourced information to track Hong Kong police movements, traffic and protests. (AP)
Updated 10 October 2019

Apple removes police-tracking app used in Hong Kong protests from its app store

  • Crowdsourcing app HKmap.live violated rules because it was used to ambush police and by criminals
  • Apple: ‘Many concerned customers in Hong Kong’ contacted the company about the mapping app

SAN FRANCISCO: Apple on Wednesday removed an app that protesters in Hong Kong have used to track police movements, saying the app violated its rules because it was used to ambush police and by criminals who used it to victimize residents in areas with no law enforcement.
Apple rejected the crowdsourcing app, HKmap.live, earlier this month but then reversed course last week, allowing the app to appear on its App Store. The approval drew a sharply worded commentary criticizing Apple in the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily.
Apple said in a statement that “many concerned customers in Hong Kong” contacted the company about the mapping app. Apple said it immediately began investigating the app’s use and found it “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.”
“The app displays police locations and 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 victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” the statement said.
Under Apple’s rules and policies, apps that meet its standards to appear in the App Store have sometimes been removed after their release if they were found to facilitate illegal activity or threaten public safety.
In 2011, Apple modified its app store to remove apps that listed locations for drunken driving checkpoints not previously published by law enforcement officials.


Tech experts laud WhatsApp forwarding limits

Updated 09 April 2020

Tech experts laud WhatsApp forwarding limits

  • Decision taken to tackle fake news crisis amid coronavirus pandemic

LONDON: Tech experts have welcomed WhatsApp’s decision to launch a new feature to restrict the freedom to forward messages, in a bid to crack down on a new fake news crisis surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

WhatsApp will reduce the number of contacts or groups a person can forward a regularly shared message from five to one.

If a regularly forwarded message is received, the content will now include a double arrow symbol to alert the user to the message’s popularity. 

Caroline Das-Monfrais, chief strategy officer at FTI Consulting, told Arab News that the cap on forwarding is “intervention that’s welcomed.”

She added: “WhatsApp has proactively empowered its customers to make their own choices. Everyone has a responsibility in the fight against fake news. Tech companies provide the tools, but we should all exercise judgement.”

The “double arrow symbol showing that something has been frequently forwarded is great innovation,” Das-Monfrais said.

“Tech companies can’t and shouldn’t go all the way and monitor peoples’ messages. There’s an element of trust and freedom in WhatsApp’s solution. They’re doing the right thing in this limited approach.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• WhatsApp will reduce the number of contacts or groups a person can forward a regularly shared message from five to one.

• If a regularly forwarded message is received, the content will now include a double arrow symbol to alert the user to the message’s popularity.

• British boxer Amir Khan shared a false story that COVID-19 is a man-made pandemic that was released to ‘control the population to install 5G towers.’

• Untruths about 5G technology have inspired criminal acts throughout the UK, with telecoms masts being targeted by arsonists.

In recent weeks, new conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 have led to calls for social media companies and regulators to act to prevent the spread of fake news. 

Untruths about 5G technology have inspired criminal acts throughout the UK, with telecoms masts being targeted by arsonists. 

Prominent British boxer Amir Khan shared a false story that COVID-19 is a man-made pandemic that was released to “control the population to install 5G towers.”

TV personality and “Britain’s Got Talent” judge Amanda Holden later faced criticism for sharing the same story.

Jo Stevens, Labour MP for Cardiff Central, said the move by WhatsApp is “an encouraging step to help prevent dangerous disinformation spreading about COVID-19.”

She added: “We’ve seen the impact it (disinformation) has had this week with criminal damage to 5G masts on the basis of false claims.”

Ed Vaizey, former British minister for culture, communications and creative industries, told Arab News that the spread of fake news around COVID-19 is “potentially a matter of life and death. If people are misled about precautions and cures, that could cause very serious harm.”

He said: “It has forced tech companies to act and put resources into combating fake news in a way they didn’t before when it came to elections or general malicious issues like anti-vaccination campaigns, which caused harm but in a less high-profile way.”

Vaizey added: “If we’re going to learn any lesson from this pandemic, it’s that fake news is very damaging and that tech companies have the capacity to have an effect on it.

“There’s an ecosystem of innovative new companies like NewsGuard bringing up the fight against fake news. After the pandemic ends, governments must redouble their efforts to take the issue seriously.”

On Tuesday, a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement: “We’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation.

“We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, WhatsApp’s messaging encryption software prevents its own workers and third parties from viewing content sent on the platform. 

This prevents it from using intrusive content-removing software employed by other social media or messaging companies.

Instead, WhatsApp has opted to toughen so-called messaging friction, the software and freedom users have to share information. 

In 2018, it was possible to forward a message to 250 contacts and groups at once. Last year, the limit was set at five, before now being reduced to one.

It will still be possible for a user to widely share content, but WhatsApp is confident that the change will slow down the spread of misinformation.

While fake news is in the company’s crosshairs, it knows that popular comic forwarded messages are a great way to share joy during difficult times. 

“We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes and reflections or prayers they find meaningful. In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers,” the company’s spokesperson said.

Many WhatsApp users have reported a surge in their usage of the app in order to keep in touch with distant friends and family, with one Twitter user joking that the change to the platform’s forwarding limits will “cut messages from my parents by 89 percent.”