A group of high profile lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) issued a scathing rebuke of Apple and Activision Blizzard, America’s largest video game developer on Friday, blasting the companies for acquiescing to the communist Chinese government’s censorship of its dissidents.
In a letter addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the members of the House and Senate condemned the tech giant for removing HKMap from its App Store. The crowdsourced mapping app was being used by Hong Kong’s pro-democratic protesters to avoid the perils of political unrest by marking the location of police and providing details about street closures.
Facing pressure by the Chinese government, Apple removed HKmap from its map store earlier this month, contending it was being used for criminal activity. The company said it was notified by Hong Kong police that protesters were using the app to target law enforcement officials, though the assertion has never been independently verified. It then reversed its decision, only to remove it a second time.
Apple’s removal of the HKmap.live app is “censorship” and proof American corporations are kowtowing to China’s communism, the group of bipartisan lawmakers warned.
“Apple’s decisions last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning,” the lawmakers wrote. “Last year you were widely quoted saying that ‘At Apple we are not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions.’”
It continued: “The Chinese government is growing more aggressive in its attempts to dictate terms to U.S. corporations . . . cases like these raise real concern about whether Apple and other large U.S. corporate entities will bow to growing Chinese demands rather than lose access to more than a billion Chinese consumers.”
Seven lawmakers signed the letter including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ).
In a separate letter addressed to Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick, the lawmakers repudiated the company’s decision to penalize a competitive Hearthstone player who called on viewers to support the Hong Kong protesters during a live-streamed post-game interview. The company suspended Hong Kong-based player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai from competing in esports for a year and revoking his prize money after he endorsed the pro-democracy demonstrations.
After facing global backlash for its actions against Ng Wai, Activision Blizzard announced it would reduce Blitzchung’s suspension to six months and let him keep the prize money.
Banning the gamer is a “disappointing decision [that] could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms,” the letter states. “You have the opportunity to reverse course,” the lawmakers wrote to Kotick. “We urge you to take it.”
“As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values—like freedom of speech and thought—or to give in to Beijing’s demands in order to preserve market access,” it continues. “We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung.”
Wyden, Rubio, Ocasio-Cortez, Gallagher, and Malinowski also signed onto the letter to Activision Blizzard.
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