As if piling up sandbags before a flood, Apple was well prepared to face backlash over its decision to remove an app used by Hong Kong protesters.
But the firm’s carefully-worded statement offering its reasoning has left China watchers, politicians – and some famed Apple supporters – wholly unconvinced.
“Apple’s decision to cave to Communist China’s demands is unacceptable,” tweeted Rick Scott, a Republican senator for Florida.
“Putting profits above the human rights and dignity of the people of Hong Kong is wrong. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Late on Wednesday, the firm started briefing journalists on the move, pushing its view that the HKmap.live was being “used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents”.
On Thursday morning, Apple chief executive Tim Cook dropped an email into the inboxes of his employees.
“It’s out of my great respect for the work you do every day that I want to share the way we went about making this decision,” he wrote.
“Over the past several days we received credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present. This use put the app in violation of Hong Kong law.
“Similarly, widespread abuse clearly violates our App Store guidelines barring personal harm.”
Long-time Apple commentator John Gruber wrote of Mr Cook’s email: “I can’t recall an Apple memo or statement that crumbles so quickly under scrutiny.”
Apple has yet to provide any additional information about those claimed incidents. Charles Mok, a Hong Kong legislator who represents the IT industry in the territory, posted a letter to Mr Cook on Twitter.
“There are numerous cases of innocent passers-by in the neighbourhood injured by the Kong Kong Police Force’s excessive force in crowd dispersal operations,” he wrote.
“The user-generated information shared using HKmap.live in fact helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activities might be subjected to police brutality which many human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have observed.”
Mr Mok went on to argue that users on major social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, also share information about police activity – but were not being held to the same standard.
“We Hongkongers will definitely look closely at whether Apple chooses to uphold its commitment to free expression and other basic human rights, or become an accomplice for Chinese censorship and oppression.”
Apple has not responded to the letter.