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Apple removed a Hong Kong mapping app from its App Store on Thursday after Chinese state media said it endangered law enforcement officers in the ongoing Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

Apple also removed a news outlet’s app, Quartz, from the App Store in China on Wednesday, citing content that is “illegal in China,” a Quartz spokesperson said, adding that Quartz has been covering pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong extensively.

Apple said that it removed the mapping app because it “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong” and has been “used to target and ambush police.” Apple also said that it had been in contact with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau. (Google also removed Hong Kong protest apps from its Android app store this week.) Apple added that Chinese authorities told it that the Quartz app didn’t comply with local laws.

Because Apple controls its App Store, which is the only way for most people to install apps on iPhones, it can effectively decide which software is acceptable for iPhone users, making it an access point for governments which want to remove content from their countries.

But while attention is now focused on how China’s government puts pressure on international businesses, Apple has had to carefully tread around Beijing’s pressure points for years.

Apple finds itself in the middle of controversy as China and the Communist Party are increasingly leaning on international companies to quell discussion or distribution of content that supports pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong.

For example, organizations and businesses in China have been cutting relationships and putting pressure on the NBA after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong.

Apple has a closer relationship with China than other tech companies, like Facebook and Google, which have significant products that are banned from the country.

Apple does nearly all of its production in China, and needs to protect the massive supply chain that produces over 200 million iPhones per year.

Beyond that, mainland China is also a key market for Apple. Apple reported $51 billion in revenue in 2018 from “Greater China,” which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan (in line with the Communist Party’s preferred geography). That’s Apple’s third-biggest region, after the Americas and Europe. Apple’s total revenue for 2018 was $265.6 billion.

A balancing act

CEO of Apple Tim Cook attends China Development Forum 2019 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on March 23, 2019 in Beijing, China.

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Apple’s relationship with China has been scrutinized before, most notably in a 2017 letter from Senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy.

Apple had recently taken several virtual private networking (VPN) apps off of its App Store platform in China. VPN apps enable users to route all their web traffic through a remote server, and VPNs are often used to access content that’s blocked by China’s so-called “great firewall.”

“We are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of the internet,” the senators wrote.

Apple responded in a letter signed by Cynthia Hogan, Apple’s vice president for public policy. It summarizes Apple’s approach to the China issue — that Apple believes that by doing business in the country, it promotes “the free flow of ideas and information,” and at the same time, Apple has to follow the laws of every country it operates in.

“We believe that Apple can best promote fundamental rights, including the right of free expression, by being engaged even where we may disagree with a particular country’s law,” Hogan wrote.

A recent security dustup between Apple and Google also highlighted how carefully tech companies need to handle how Beijing will interpret given events.

An elite Google security team recently published findings that suggested that simply visiting a given website on your iPhone could unleash a chain of hacks, giving the attacker access to text messages, photos, and contacts.

Google didn’t mention that the iPhone hacks were part of a larger program that also targeted Windows and Android computers and phones, and it didn’t mention who had built these websites and designed the malware. (A Google spokesperson at the time declined to identify the attackers and didn’t offer a reason why Google didn’t identify the group.)

Apple responded to Google, but it also didn’t mention the attackers. Apple did however, mention who the hackers were targeting: Uighurs, a muslim minority in China.

An estimated 1.5 million Uighurs have been forced to attend detention and “re-education” camps by the Chinese government in the region of Xinjiang, many of them for violating what Amnesty International describes as a “highly restrictive and discriminatory” law that China says is designed to combat extremism.

The only group with the resources and motivation to target Uiguirs with extremely valuable hacks would be the Chinese government. But Apple’s response to Google doesn’t include the word “China” and it avoids connecting the dots about which group actually was able to hack an iPhone.

“By far the biggest paradox about modern Apple is the fact that the company is increasingly building its reputation around protecting privacy even as it is the tech company that is by far the most invested in China, whose government is more aggressive than any other in ensuring that on the Internet in particular, but also in day-to-day life, there is no privacy at all,” tech analyst Ben Thompson observed in a newsletter last month.

HK Maps Live was a minor app, although it had shot to the number 2 overall free app in Hong Kong before it was removed, according to Sensor Tower, an app analytics firm that monitors Apple’s App Store charts. (The app can still be accessed through the Safari browser on the iPhone.) Quartz is a respected news operation, but China had already told Apple to remove the New York Times from the App Store in the country in 2017.

Some moves Apple has made in China are more minor than access to news or crowdsourced maps of police for protestors. Apple didn’t comment on reports that the latest version of iOS has removed the Taiwan flag emoji in Hong Kong and Macau.

But taken as a whole, they paint a picture that Apple is forced by Chinese authorities to make compromises to preserve its business interests.

Here’s Apple’s official statement on removing the HK Live app:

We created the App Store to be a safe and trusted place to discover apps. We have learned that an app, HKmap.live, has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong. Many concerned customers in Hong Kong have contacted us about this app and we immediately began investigating it. The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau 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. This app violates our guidelines and local laws, and we have removed it from the App Store.



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World

Death toll in Japan rises to 58

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Police officers search an area by boat that was flooded by Typhoon Hagibis on October 14, 2019 in Marumori, Miyagi, Japan.

Tomohiro Ohsumi | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The death toll in the worst typhoon to hit Japan for decades climbed to 58 on Tuesday as rescuers slogged through mud and debris in an increasingly grim search for the missing and as thousands of homes remained without power or water.

The storm hit a wide swathe of central and eastern Japan, with 15 missing and some 211 injured nearly three days after Typhoon Hagibis — whose name means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog — lashed Japan with high winds and intense rains, NHK national broadcaster said.

Some 138,000 households were without water while 24,000 lacked electricity, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands without power just after the storm but cause for concern in northern areas where the weather was starting to turn chilly.

The highest toll was in Fukushima prefecture north of Tokyo, where levees burst in at least 14 places along the Abukuma River, which meanders through a number of cities in the agricultural prefecture.

At least 18 died in Fukushima, including a mother who was caught up in flood waters with her two children, one of whose death was confirmed on Monday while the other, a little boy, remained missing.

Thousands of police, fire officials and military personnel continued to search for people who may have been cut off by floodwaters and landslides set off by the storm, with hope diminishing that the missing would be found alive.

Survivors described how waters rose rapidly to chest height in roughly an hour and mainly at night, making it hard to escape to higher ground. Many of the dead in Fukushima were elderly, NHK said.

“I couldn’t believe it, the water came up so fast,” one man in Fukushima told NHK.

Though the threat of rain is expected to diminish on Tuesday, temperatures are likely to drop in many areas later this week, in some cases to unseasonably low temperatures, NHK said.

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Hunter Biden’s Ukraine, China deals were probably legal, and that’s the problem

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Hunter Biden speaks during the World Food Program USA’s 2016 McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at the Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Kris Connor | WireImage | Getty Images

Whether the politicians in Washington like it or not, the last few weeks of non-stop coverage of the Trump impeachment inquiry has been shining a light on a disturbing practice that’s been in place since long before this president ever took office.

That is, we’re learning just how common it is for the children and other family members of leading U.S. politicians to get lucrative jobs and other positions from foreign state-owned enterprises. It may all be legal, but it certainly seems like a brilliant way to get around U.S. campaign finance laws that prohibit donations from foreigners and foreign governments.

It’s important to emphasize that in this Ukraine scandal, there isn’t any evidence that Hunter Biden or former Vice President Joe Biden broke any laws as the younger Biden received his lucrative state-owned Ukrainian natural gas company board post. But let’s be clear: the fact that getting these high-paying jobs and positions is often 100 percent legal isn’t a reason to be less concerned. It’s a reason to be more outraged.

But let’s be even more clear. It’s not just foreign company boards of foreign-owned investment funds at play. Children of elected officials from both parties have received lucrative jobs from U.S. companies, regardless of their experience or comparable salaries for the same positions.

There’s also the neat trick of getting all those legal American-made campaign donations into the pockets of the candidates’ family members. The easy way to do that is for a candidate to simply hire his or her family members as official staffers on the campaign and pay them whatever salary they like. That’s a long running practice several elected officials from both parties have employed for years.

So many ways to win favor

There are many other ways to at least try to win favor with our top elected officials via their family members that don’t involve actual cash and salaries.

For example, the admission rates for Stanford University (4.8 percent), Yale University (6.3 percent), Harvard University (5.4 percent), and Georgetown Law School (24 percent), are all extremely low. But for each of our last four presidents, the acceptance rate for their children at these schools has been a head-scratching 100 percent.

Either each one of these presidential kids was coincidentally a genius, or someone in academia knows how to use influence to keep those huge endowments untaxed.

Once again, to those journalists and all the legal eagles correctly pointing out that no laws are being broken by any of this, the public has one thing to say:

Big deal.

Yeah, so it’s likely no laws are technically being broken. But the spirit of campaign finance and bribery laws is being trashed thoroughly. Of course the voters are not alone in knowing this has been the case for some time.

Back in 2014, many of the same Democrats who are now defending the Bidens now were decrying the indirect influence lobbyists and corporations were gaining by paying off politicians’ relatives. It would be great if they had the intellectual honesty to be just as outraged by the very appearance of impropriety in the Biden case as they appear to be in response to everything they don’t like about President Trump.

There should be plenty of room for outrage over the deals, legal or not, that Hunter Biden made with foreign-owned companies and whatever President Trump and his aides have done to bring this story into the spotlight. In other words, there’s plenty of room to be angry at both the Bidens and President Trump over this entire matter.

Uncharted territory

And, there’s plenty of bipartisan reasons to highlight this issue. They include the fact that President Trump’s children continue to run his many businesses while he’s in office. The opportunities to curry undue influence via those business connections are infinite and uncharted territory in U.S. history.

But partisan political hacks are making sure to couch it in an “us vs. them” lens alone.

The pressure to show only selective outrage is abundantly clear on the Democratic campaign trail. For example, Senator Elizabeth Warren would seem to be in the perfect position to make a persuasive argument for herself based on this story.

She even has an anti-corruption plan she began pushing just as this Ukraine corruption story began to break. But when asked whether that very anti-corruption would allow a vice president’s son to make the business deals Hunter Biden did,

Really? Warren’s campaign handlers should know that any plan that doesn’t forbid what Hunter Biden was doing isn’t worth implementing. They should also know that any candidate who can’t be sure if his or her plan bans it doesn’t have the assertiveness to win a tough primary fight or a general election. Outrage works in elections, just ask 2016 Trump campaign staffers how much outrage over illegal immigration helped them win the GOP primaries.

But the Biden story brings up an even more enduring question that transcends the Trump presidency and goes right to the heart of government itself. If the existing federal campaign finance and lobbying laws have only encouraged our current more insidious forms of buying influence, what more can new laws be expected to do? The unintended consequences and clever workarounds people can find to find new and inventive ways to get their cash into the politicians’ hands will likely never end.

So once again, this is really a job for the fairest journalists out there who can find a way to shine a light on these cozy arrangements on both sides of the political aisle. The avalanche of money falling into American politics to gain influence and power is nothing new, and this is not the time to ignore it just because many of us may not like the messenger.

Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.



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US-China partial trade deal, oil and currencies

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Asia Pacific markets traded cautiously on Tuesday, following the previous day’s rally, as new doubts emerged overnight about the partial U.S.-China trade deal.

In South Korea, the Kospi index rose fractionally higher to 2,067.92. Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 1.33% after Japanese markets were closed Monday for a public holiday. The Topix index added 1.31%.

Australia’s ASX 200 retraced early losses to trade up 0.05%. The heavily weighted financial subindex reversed declines to trade up 0.29% while the energy sector fell 0.57% and materials was down 0.96%.

Overnight, stocks closed slightly lower on Wall Street and declined in major European markets.

“We have started the new week in a more cautious mood with the US-China trade vibes now starting to show some signs of friction,” Rodrigo Catril, senior foreign-exchange strategist at the National Australia Bank, wrote in a morning note. “China wants more talk time to iron out details and it also wants the tariff stick to go away, but overnight comments from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggests otherwise.”

Currencies

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. dollar against a basket of its peers, traded at 98.470, climbing from earlier low around 98.447.

Elsewhere, the Japanese yen, which is seen as a safe-haven currency, changed hands at 108.37, weakening from an earlier high of 108.33.

The Australian dollar traded at $0.6767, slipping from levels near $0.6779. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s October policy meeting minutes are due today — earlier this month, the Australian central bank slashed its cash rate by 25 basis points to a record low of 0.75%.

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