U.S. lawmakers urge Apple to restore HKMap app used in Hong Kong

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of seven U.S. lawmakers including Senators Ted Cruz, Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday urged Apple Inc AAPL.O Chief Executive Tim Cook to restore the HKMap app used in Hong Kong.

FILE PHOTO: The App is pictured on a phone screen in this photo illustration, in Hong Kong, China, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Earlier this month, Apple removed the app that helped Hong Kong protesters track police movements, saying it was used to target officers.

Apple declined to comment.

The group separately wrote Activision Blizzard Inc's ATVI.O chief executive Robert Kotick, calling on him to reverse the company's decision to ban a player who voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Activision Blizzard did not immediately comment on Friday.

“You have said publicly that you want to work with China’s leaders to effect change rather than sit on the sidelines and yell at them. We, too, believe that diplomacy and trade can be democratizing forces. But when a repressive government refuses to evolve or, indeed, when it doubles down, cooperation can become complicity,” the members wrote to Cook.

Apple said on Oct. 9 that it had begun an immediate investigation after “many concerned customers in Hong Kong” contacted it about the app and the company found it had endangered law enforcement and residents.

It said the HKMap 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.” Critics said Apple acted after pressure from Beijing in a commentary in the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper.

The lawmakers said Apple has censored at least 2,200 apps in China, citing the nonprofit group GreatFire.

Apple’s action came amid a furor surrounding the U.S. National Basketball Association after a team official tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests, which led Chinese sponsors and partners to cut ties with the NBA.

Last week, Blizzard reduced the punishment dealt out to Chung Ng Wai, a Hong Kong-based Hearthstone esports gamer, for his public support of pro-democracy protests after its decision sparked controversy among players and the public.

Blizzard Entertainment, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, said initially that it would suspend the player from competition for a year and strip him of prize money.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis