Apple removes WhatsApp, Threads from App Store in China

Amid continued Chinese Government crackdown on US tech, Apple has now removed popular messaging apps WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China to remain compliant with a directive from the Chinese government. And according to reports, the company also removed messaging services Telegram and Signal.

On Friday, Apple confirmed the removal of Meta-owned messaging apps WhatsApp and Threads from its Chinese App Store. This action followed a directive issued by China’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), citing national security concerns as the reason. Notably, reports suggest that other messaging platforms, Signal and Telegram, were also removed from the app store. Since WhatsApp, boasting over 2 billion global users, and Threads, the latest social media app owned by Meta (which broke all kinds of records after its release), have been pulled from the Chinese App Store, this move restricts Chinese users’ access to these platforms. At the very least, the removal of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Threads restricts Chinese users’ access to diverse sources of information and communication channels.

While the specific details behind the CAC’s decision are yet to be officially disclosed, the move signals a growing intolerance within China towards foreign messaging services that operate outside the government’s control. This action also suggests that Apple, despite its global influence, has less leeway to operate freely in China compared to other markets. “The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered the removal of these apps from the China storefront based on their national security concerns,” Apple said in an official statement. “We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree,” a spokesperson for Apple commented on the matter.

“We refer you to Apple for comment,” a Meta spokesperson, confirming that WhatsApp and Threads no longer maintain a presence on Apple’s App Store in China.

This is hardly a new development, since in China, a host of foreign apps, including those recently removed, are already heavily restricted. The Great Firewall, China’s extensive censorship system, blocks access to a multitude of foreign websites and online services. Some of the other platforms to be censored in China include Gmail, YouTube, Snapchat, and Spotify. However, users with virtual private networks (VPNs) could still access these apps, albeit with potential technical hurdles. The recent removal from the App Store effectively prevents new downloads and installations, further limiting access for those who don’t already have the apps or utilize VPNs. Interestingly, other Meta apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger remain available for download.

This isn’t Apple’s first instance of complying with Chinese government demands regarding app availability either. In the past, the company has removed apps related to news, social media, and even generative AI at the government’s request. It also comes at a time when there is a push in the US to potentially divest TikTok, the popular video-sharing app owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance.

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