Technology

Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Friday sent letters to two tech giants over accusations that they were censoring pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong to protect business interests in China.

Members of the House and Senate panned both Apple and Acitivison Blizzard over actions they said suppressed "criticism of the Chinese government in hopes of gaining higher profits."

Apple has come under fire for its decision to remove from its app store HKMap.live, a volunteer-run crowdsourced app that tracks the protests in Hong Kong.

Activision Blizzard has also drawn criticism for suspending Hong Kong-based player Chung Ng Wai from competing in esports for a year and revoking his prize money after he endorsed the pro-democracy demonstrations in a post-game interview. 

"Apple's decisions last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. "We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong." 

In a separate letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick, lawmakers wrote: "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. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung."

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) all signed onto the letter to Apple, while Wyden, Rubio, Ocasio-Cortez, Gallagher and Malinowski also signed onto the letter to Activision Blizzard.

Neither company immediately responded to requests for comment from The Hill.

Cook has defended Apple's decision to remove the HKMap.live app from its store, saying in an email to staffers obtained by The Verge that "the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present."

Blizzard Entertainment, which is owned by Activision Blizzard, said it will would reduce Chung's suspension to six months and let him keep the prize money.

Protesters in Hong Kong have enjoyed bipartisan support on Capitol Hill during their months-long demonstrations. 

The protests have again been thrust into the spotlight over the NBA's handling of a now-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing solidarity with pro-democracy protesters and its statements expressing regrets to any offended Chinese fans and condemning Morey.

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