US tech companies have taken steps that limit the power and spread of Hong Kong protests.
Last week, Apple decided to remove an app called HKmap.live from its App Store. The app let protestors in Hong Kong track police presence.
In an internal memo seen by Reuters, Apple CEO Tim Cook Cook said the decision to remove HKmap.live was based on information that the app had been used to coordinate violence in the protests.
“It is no secret that technology can be used for good or for ill. This case is no different,” he said.
“This use put the app in violation of Hong Kong law. Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our App Store guidelines barring personal harm.
“National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts.
“In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protects our users.”
Apple’s decision to remove the app happened a day after Chinese state media publication People’s Daily criticised the app.
“As a company with international influence, Apple has always enjoyed a high reputation,” writer Bo Lanping said.
“A company has its own standards of conduct, but should also have its social responsibilities. If Apple abandons its responsibilities and lets violent acts get worse, it puts more users at risk.”
Since June the protests have moved through the city as part of a cat-and-mouse game between citizens and police.
In that time, the protestors have used communications technology to coordinate their movements and share information.
Similarly, the Chinese government has been found enacting campaigns to target protestors on social media.
The revolution of our times
As the city continues to erupt in weekly displays of violence, China has tried to limit international support for the revolutionary movement, with state media outlet People’s Daily reporting that Chinese President, Xi Jinping, warned against international support for the protestors on Monday.
"Anyone attempting separatist activities in any part of China will be crushed and any external force backing such attempts will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming,” Xi said.
Only a few days after a choose your own adventure game called ‘The Revolution of Our Times’ was released on the Google Play Store, it was suspended by Google.
The mostly text-based game, which borrowed its title from a Hong Kong protest slogan, let users play as protesters and included a history of the protest movement, as well as maps of its major sites.
The Revolution of Our Times was only on the Play Store for a short time.
Under the pseudonym Spinner of Yarns, the developer of ‘The Revolution of Our Times’ told the Hong Kong Free Press that he was not surprised when the app was pulled.
“Before suspending me, Google Play did not give any warning,” he said.
“But I noticed that for three days after it was published, I couldn’t search for it by name on Play Store, but [could] only access the app via the app ID.
“So it felt strange, and I wondered whether they would eventually censor me.”
“We have a long-standing policy prohibiting developers from capitalising on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game,” Google said.
“After careful review, we found this app to be violating that particular policy and suspended it, as we have done with similar attempts to profit from other high-profile events such as earthquakes, crises, suicides and conflicts.”
Blizzard Entertainment, maker of the immensely popular World of Warcraft franchise, has also come under fire for its decision to ban a player who displayed pro-Hong Kong sentiment.
After winning a match in a season tournament of the online card game, Hearthstone, Hong Kong player Chung ‘Blitzchung’ Ng Wai appeared on a Taiwanese livestream wearing a gas mask.
He then shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" while the game’s commentators ducked their heads.
Blitzchung's mask was reminiscent of those worn by Hong Kong protestors.
Blizzard ruled that Blitzchung broke competition rules which prohibit players from “engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image”.
As a result, Blitzchung was banned from professional competition for 12 months, and was stripped of his US$3,000 tournament earnings.
The commentators were also banned from presenting Hearthstone competitions.
Blitzchung defended his actions, telling eSports news site InvenGlobal that he had been actively engaging with the Hong Kong Protests.
“My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention,” Blitzchung said.
“I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it's my duty to say something about the issue."
The decision to ban Blitzchung was met with ire by Blizzard’s player base who thought Blizzard was too easily swayed by Chinese influence.
Pro-Hong Kong memes of a Chinese hero from Blizzard’s online shooter Overwatch spread online while #BoycottBlizzard began trended worldwide, along with many players sharing screencaps of them deleting their Blizzard accounts – including former World of Warcraft game designer Mark Kern.
Blizzard’s official response to the controversy came days later in the form of a statement from Blizzard Entertainment President, J Allen Brack.
“The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision,” Brack said.
“We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.
“If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.”
In the same statement, Brack announced that the decision to withhold Blitzchung’s prize money would be overturned, and his ban would be reduced from 12 to six months.
“There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast,” Brack said.
The makers of Gods Unchained – an Australian online card game that uses the Ethereum blockchain – offered to pay back all of Blitzchung's winnings and gave him a ticket to their upcoming tournament that has a prize pool of $500,000.
.@Blizzard_Ent just banned @blitzchungHS and stripped his Hearthstone winnings because they care about money more than freedom. We will pay for ALL his lost winnings and a ticket to our $500k tournament: no player should be punished for their beliefs. #freegaming https://t.co/ONvtkG4x9G— Gods Unchained (@GodsUnchained) October 8, 2019