Apple will take a rare shareholder grilling about free speech after it removed a map app used by Hong Kong protesters
Apple faces an internal conflict with shareholders over its human-rights policies.
At the firm’s annual meeting next year, shareholders are expected to press Apple to describe how it will respond to future demands — whether from national governments or other groups — that might limit free expression or access to information.
Activists working for the consumer-advocacy group SumOfUs successfully submitted a proposal seeking the confrontation.
Apple was widely criticized for blocking a mapping app that allowed Hong Kong protesters to track the police, with critics suggesting the firm had kowtowed to Beijing.
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Apple may be forced to clarify exactly how it responds to government demands that might limit free speech.
According to the Financial Times, shareholders at the firm’s annual meeting next year are expected to ask Apple to describe how it will respond to future demands — whether from national governments or other groups — that might limit free expression or access to information.
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This comes after campaigners working for the consumer-advocacy group SumOfUs submitted a successful proposal asking shareholders to press Apple for such a description.
According to a spokeswoman, the proposal was submitted on behalf of the group by Apple shareholders who are SumOfUs members.
“By complying with the government of China’s regime, Apple is aiding the brutal repression of Uyghurs, Tibetans and other rights activists,” Sondhya Gupta, a senior campaigner at SumOfUs, said.
“Our motion would force Apple to stand accountable for the impact of its decisions on the lives of innocent people. Until the corporation changes how it does business in China, it will remain complicit in some of the most brutal human rights abuses in the world today.”
Apple has been criticized in recent months for its apparent willingness to ban apps that undermine the Chinese government. In July it said it had removed more than 600 apps at the request of international governments in the second half of 2018, with over 80% thought to have been removed from its mainland China App Store.
The tech giant’s removal of the HKMap Live app from its App Store has proved especially controversial. HKMap Live allowed Hong Kongers to track the location of the police in the territory.
Though the app was purportedly meant to help locals avoid getting caught up in clashes between the police and protesters, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the app was being used to “maliciously target individual officers for violence.”
According to an internal company memo obtained by Bloomberg, Cook told Apple staff the app was being used to “victimize individuals and property where no police are present” and further said he had received “credible information” that the app was being used in this way.
Yet the tech giant’s removal of the app was widely interpreted as Apple kowtowing to the Chinese state. Soon after the internal memo was reported, US lawmakers including Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio signed an open letter to Cook calling his decision “deeply concerning.”
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