Apple on Thursday took down a smartphone app that protesters in Hong Kong use to track police whereabouts, a move that comes one day after Chinese state media criticized the company for acting as an “accomplice” to the pro-democracy movement.
The tech giant is the latest U.S. company to face backlash from the Chinese Communist Party over the ongoing and sometimes violent unrest in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous enclave.
The creators of the withdrawn app, HKmap.live, confirmed the delisting from Apple’s online store to TIME.
The removal is the latest reversal in an ongoing battle over the crowdsourced map, which allows users to report the locations of police, protesters and tear gas. Just last week Apple had approved the HKmap.live app, after rejecting it earlier this month.In a statement, Apple said it withdrew the app because it had been used to ambush the police and endanger citizens.
“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau [CSTCB] that the 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,” the statement said, according to Reuters.
A Twitter account purportedly run by the developers disagreed with the claims. “There is 0 evidence to support CSTCB’s accusation that HKmap App has been used to target and ambush police, [or] threaten public safety.”
The app does not “solicit, promote, or encourage criminal activity,” they added.
Hkmap.live, which debuted a desktop version in early August, continued to load on web browsers Thursday. Previously downloaded versions of the app also appeared to still be working.
“The majority of user review[s] in App Store … suggest HKmap IMPROVED public safety, not the opposite,” the tweets said.
The app removal comes after Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily accused Apple of enabling illegal behavior in Hong Kong and “not telling right from wrong.”
“Is Apple … opening the door for the violent protesters that are ruining Hong Kong, with the intention of being an ‘accomplice?'” says the strongly worded commentary published Tuesday.
The state media outlet also warned Apple that it may endanger its reputation among Chinese consumers. “This recklessness will cause much trouble for Apple,” it said. “Apple needs to think deeply.”
Apple has joined a growing list of international brands that have had to navigate Beijing’s ire while chasing access to China’s 1.4 billion potential consumers. Last Friday, after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for the city’s protests, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV cut ties with the NBA and announced it would not be broadcasting preseason games on its network.
Earlier this week, video game company Blizzard Entertainment banned a professional Hearthstone gamer after he donned a gas mask and chanted “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time,” a slogan commonly chanted by the city’s demonstrators.