Following pressure from China, Apple decided to pull HKmap.live from the App Store. The app allowed users to track police presence in Hong Kong, where antigovernment protesters have been demonstrating for months.
Thomas Jungbauer, professor of economics in the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, studies tech firms and high-skilled labor markets. He says that tech companies are walking a fine line as they attempt to develop their Chinese markets.
“Being associated with the Hong-Kong protests clearly adds an interesting layer to the knife-edge game that Western tech companies have been playing with the Chinese government now for a while.
“Another interesting component of this developing story is that Chinese authorities apparently called out Apple without having publicly mentioned Google. This is despite the fact that Google Android’s share in the market for mobile operating systems in mainland China tops Apple iOS’ by a factor of four and the app updating about police activities is available via both platforms.
“High-tech companies such as Apple and Google find themselves in a challenging strategic environment. They are locked into tough competition with each other and moves of either company in or towards the Chinese market immediately raise the stakes for the other.
“Both companies mentioned above are certainly well aware of the positive role that the influx of Western companies historically had on many totalitarian regimes. They will hope, as recently mentioned recently by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, that establishing a profitable presence in China will go hand in hand with a gradual opening of the Chinese economy, and ultimately, society. The path leading to this outcome, however, is foggy at best. Never before has a totalitarian regime had such a level of control and censorship in place, and tech giants such as Apple and Google are walking a fine line.”