Back in October, we covered a story wherein Apple banned popular Hong Kong protest safety app HKMapLive, among other incidents of censorship sparked by the protests, including the Activision Blizzard fiasco.
On January 12th, pro-democracy activist Twitter account @Fight4HongKong posted a tweet about yet another Hong Kong app, WhatsGap, which mapped pro-democracy businesses in Hong Kong, being removed over Google's policies on sensitive content. The tweet also included a graphic explaining how users can reinstall the app on Android devices, bypassing the Google Play Store.
Another Hong Kong pro-democracy app taken down by .@GooglePlay.
WhatsGap, a popular app mapping pro-democracy businesses in Hong Kong, is taken down by Google over policies on sensitive contents.
— #SOSHK Fight for Hong Kong (@Fight4HongKong) January 12, 2020
In a follow-up tweet, @Fight4HongKong posted a reminder of the banning of HKMapLive and “Revolution of Our Times,” a game that covered the events of the protests in Hong Kong. Both apps were eventually reinstated by Google after public outrage of the tech giant siding with tyrannical China, but the game was not reinstated by Apple.
One response included a screenshot explaining Google's sensitive events policy, stating “We don't allow apps that lack reasonable sensitivity towards or capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or any other tragic event.” A few other Twitter users encouraged the developers to move to an in-browser website or PWA to avoid app store gatekeepers.
Many called for the boycott of Google over such decisions. “This is a good chance for HK ppl know who and what are worth to support in this movement. Apparently Google and Apple are not on list. Basically use, but don't purchase any additional,” they said, followed by a caricature depicting major companies and countries kissing the shoes of Chinese president Xi Jinping and performing the Nazi salute while he wears a swastika on his suit and holds a bag of money soaked in blood.
Google seems to be in a difficult position to defend. This action is fundamentally different from previous censorship attempts which were more closely related to the protests. In this case, the app simply shows pro-democracy shops to motivate people to do their business there. Many argue that the reasoning behind this decision seems to be a financial blow to these businesses that have sided with the protesters against the Chinese government.